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31 August 2023: Your weekly roundup of key security developments in Russia and Eurasia


Welcome to your Thursday newsletter, covering all the key developments relating to terrorism and insurgency, private military companies (PMCs), and semi-state security services in Russia and Eurasia. This newsletter saves you time by collating relevant reporting from a variety of English- and Russian-language sources. It’s organised thematically to make it easy for you to find the stories that are of interest to you.


Update: I hope you have all had an enjoyable August, and managed to get at least some time away from your desks! A quick update on the newsletter: Starting in mid-September, there will be at least two newsletters per week. The Thursday newsletter will focus on news and analysis, providing a roundup of recent developments around terrorism and insurgency, PMCs, and semi-state security services in Russia and Eurasia. You may have noticed I have been experimenting with different formats lately, and this is the one I plan to stick with for a little while at least. The Tuesday newsletter will focus on methodologies and tools for studying security threats in the region. This will start with a nine-part series on how to map the security services, using the Chechen security services as an example.


You will automatically be signed up to both newsletters, but if you’re only interested in one, you can adjust your preferences at any time by clicking on ‘Manage your subscription’ at the bottom of this email — or emailing me at newsletter@threatologist.com. There may also be the occasional bonus email, providing in-depth analysis on particular developments, which all subscribers will get. If there are particular things you would like to see more of in either newsletter, please drop me a line at the above address.


Also, because I’ve been away for almost a month, today’s newsletter will be a lot longer than usual!

Terrorism and insurgency

The Southern District Military Court convicted multiple people on terrorism-related charges. A resident of Karachayevo-Cherkessia received a 15-year term for preparing a terrorist attack on behalf of At-Takfir wal-Hijra (3). An Astrakhan resident was sentenced to eight and a half years for transferring money to Hayat Tahrir ash-Sham (16), and a man already serving time in Stavropol Kray was sentenced to 17 years in total for joining the Islamic State (IS) (22). 


In judicial proceedings elsewhere, a Moscow military court sentenced a Chechen man to eight years in prison for providing financial support for someone to join a terrorist group in Syria. The man, whom the Dubai authorities suspect of the murder of former Vostok commander and Kadyrov opponent Sulim Yamadayev, may soon be released for time served (13). Crimea’s Supreme Court has increased, from two to five years in prison, the sentence imposed on a man convicted of fighting in Ukraine with the Noman Chelebidzhikhan Crimean Tatar Volunteer Battalion (19).


The Russian authorities have also detained several people on suspicion of terrorism offences. Two residents of Astrakhan Oblast were detained for failing to inform the authorities of an acquaintances’ financial support for Hayat Tahrir ash-Sham (6). Two Dagestani residents are accused of trying to travel to Syria to join IS, having earlier been detained by the Turkish authorities attempting to cross the border (10). In Kaluga Oblast, the Federal Security Service (FSB) detained a local resident on charges of planning to carry out a terrorist attack on critical infrastructure before travelling to Ukraine to join the Azov Battalion (27).


Some investigations have proved more controversial than others. The FSB branch for Krasnodar Kray has accused a local resident of planning an attack on law enforcement, but Kavkaz Realii have claimed no evidence has been offered in support of the accusations (11). A Chechen native was detained at Magas airport, Kyrgyzstan, having been declared wanted by Russia for financing terrorism. His family, however, claim the charges are fabricated and he was earlier kidnapped in Chechnya (17). Finally, Russia plans to posthumously prosecute an Uzbek citizen accused of perpetrating a suicide attack against the Russian consulate in Kabul on behalf of IS in autumn 2022. The Taliban have assisted the investigation, despite being formally still being designated a terrorist organisation by Russia (9).


Elsewhere in Eurasia, Georgia’s Security Service reported on the detention of two men in Kakhetia on suspicion of membership of IS (2). Three women and 13 children have been repatriated from Syria to Azerbaijan with the help of Turkey (12).


The big PMC-related development was, of course, the death of Wagner owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin and key military commander Dmitriy Utkin in a plane crash in Tver Oblast. This was covered in last week’s newsletter. Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed condolences, praising his contribution to Russia’s war on Ukraine and portraying him as a “talented person, a talented businessman” who achieved the “necessary results” for himself and his country (23). Funerals for those killed in the plane crash began on Tuesday 29 August, starting with one of Prigozhin’s deputies, Valeriy Chekalov (28). The Belarusian branch of Radio Liberty claimed, based on satellite footage, that Wagner’s camp in Belarus has already begun to be dismantled in the aftermath of Prigozhin’s death (24). Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, however, insisted that the “core” of the Wagner group would remain in the country (29).


Some earlier developments may have been overtaken by these events, but are nevertheless noteworthy. Prigozhin had claimed that Wagner would continue to operate in Africa but does not currently need new recruits (7), although Vazhnyye istorii reported that Wagner recruitment centres continue to function (8). Prigozhin’s Telegram channel posted a video — his first appearance since the ‘coup’ — that appeared to show him in Africa and included a telephone number for would-be recruits (15). Putin said Prigozhin had returned to Russia from the continent the day before his fatal crash (23). In Belarus, to which Wagner was supposed to relocate after the ‘coup,’ Wagner registered itself on 4 August as an organisation carrying out “educational activities”; its owner is listed as Russian citizen Maksim Petrov, and its start-up capital as 200 Belarusian rubles ($80) (20). Meanwhile, the open-source research group All Eyes on Wagner had identified the commander of the Russian PMC Wagner’s base in Belarus as Sergey Chubko (5). Kyrgyz authorities detained a citizen on suspicion of fighting with Wagner; the man faces charges of mercenary activity, which is illegal in the country (18). Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński reported that the authorities had detained two Russian citizens accused of promoting Wagner in Krakow and Warsaw (21).


Wagner is not, of course, the only PMC in Eurasia. Mikhail Khodorkovskiy’s Dossier Center published an in-depth investigation detailing the structure and financing of the Konvoy PMC, which is linked to both Crimean Head Sergey Aksenov and Russian oligarch Arkadiy Rotenberg (25). In one of the latest official comments on the legal status of PMCs in Russia, Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko said the council was not developing legislation to legalise private military companies (PMCs) and did not see the necessity of doing so (1). In Turkey, Hikmet Tanrıverdi, CEO of the Turkish PMC SADAT and a supporter of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called for the country to adopt new legislation that allow it to legally offer military training services. SADAT has complained that existing legislation, including restrictions on providing training in Turkey itself, make it difficult for the PMC to compete with Western companies (14).

Semi-state security services

Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov claimed that 28,000 people, including 13,000 volunteers, had been deployed from Chechnya to fight in Ukraine. He said 7,000 are still there (4). The Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Defence Ministry claimed there was an explosion at the end of August in Enerhodar, Zaporizhzhia Oblast, where the Chechen OMON unit Akhmat-1 is based, although no information on security service casualties was provided (26).

Source list

1. Kommersant. 25 July 2023. Матвиенко считает излишней легализацию ЧВК в России. https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/6123906.

2. Caucasian Knot. 27 July 2023. Грузинские спецслужбы сообщили о задержании вероятных боевиков ИГ https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/390946.

3. Caucasian Knot. 26 July 2023. Житель Карачаево-Черкесии осужден за подготовку теракта. https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/390937.

4. Caucasian Knot. 27 July 2023. Кадыров назвал число военных из Чечни в зоне военной операции. https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/390960.

5. All Eyes on Wagner. 19 July 2023. Pioneer, Asipovichy Base Commander for Wagner in Belarus. https://alleyesonwagner.org/2023/07/19/pioneer-asipovichy-base-commander-for-wagner-in-belarus/.

6. Caucasian Knot. 31 July 2023. Два жителя Астрахани задержаны за недоносительство. https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/391060.

7. Vazhnyye istorii. 31 July 2023. ЧВК «Вагнер» не планирует набирать наемников, работа вербовочных центров прекращена — Евгений Пригожин. https://istories.media/news/2023/07/31/chvk-vagner-ne-planiruet-nabirat-naemnikov-rabota-verbovochnikh-tsentrov-prekrashchena-yevgenii-prigozhin/.

8. Vazhnyye istorii. 2 August 2023. ЧВК «Вагнер» продолжает набор наемников в России, вопреки заявлениям Пригожина. https://istories.media/news/2023/08/02/chvk-vagner-prodolzhaet-nabor-naemnikov-v-rossii-vopreki-zayavleniyam-prigozhina/.

9. Kommersant. 31 July 2023. Дело смертника раскрыли три страны. https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/6136169.

10. Caucasian Knot.  31 July 2023. Двое жителей Дагестана заподозрены в попытке примкнуть к ИГ. https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/391073.

11. Kavkaz Realii. 2 August 2023. В ФСБ заявили о предотвращении теракта в Армавире. Никаких доказательств в службе не привели. https://www.kavkazr.com/a/v-fsb-zayavili-o-predotvraschenii-terakta-v-armavire-nikakih-dokazateljstv-v-sluzhbe-ne-priveli-/32531199.html.

12. Caucasian Knot. 4 August 2023. 16 граждан Азербайджана вернулись на родину из заключения в Сирии. https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/391183.

13. Kommersant. 4 August 2023. Застреливший Сулима Ямадаева отсидит за терроризм. https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/6138298.

14. Nordic Monitor. 9 August 2023. Paramilitary organization linked to Erdogan seeks legislation allowing overseas operations. https://nordicmonitor.com/2023/08/paramilitary-organization-linked-to-erdogan-seeks-legal-recognition-for-overseas-operations/#:~:text=He%20referred%20to%20SADAT%20as,%2C%20ambush%2C%20assassination%20and%20terrorism.

15. Reuters. 22 August 2023. Russia's Prigozhin posts first video since mutiny, hints he is in Africa. https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/russias-prigozhin-posts-first-video-since-mutiny-hints-hes-africa-2023-08-21/.

16. Caucasian Knot. 21 August 2023. Астраханец осужден за финансирование терроризма. https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/391719.

17. Caucasian Knot. 21 August 2023. Житель Чечни задержан в Бишкеке после попытки сбежать из России. https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/391710.

18. Nastoyashcheye Vremya. 15 August 2023. В Кыргызстане по делу о наемничестве арестовали мужчину, воевавшего в составе ЧВК "Вагнер" в Украине. https://www.currenttime.tv/a/kyrgyzstan-arest-wagner/32548695.html.

19. RAPSI. 21 August 2023. Суд ужесточил приговор участнику террористического батальона. https://www.rapsinews.ru/judicial_news/20230821/309144800.html.

20. Nastoyashcheye Vremya. 16 August 2023. В Беларуси зарегистрировали юрлицо "Группа "Вагнер". Оно займется "образовательной деятельностью".https://www.currenttime.tv/a/belarus-vagner/32551004.html.

21. Mediazona. 14 August 2023. Глава польского МВД сообщил об аресте двоих россиян, которые пропагандировали «ЧВК Вагнера»; их обвиняют в шпионаже. https://zona.media/news/2023/08/14/polska .

22. Kavkaz Realii. 23 August 2023. Заключенного осудили за присягу ИГИЛ в ставропольской колонии. https://www.kavkazr.com/a/zaklyuchennogo-osudili-za-prisyagu-igil-v-stavropoljskoy-kolonii/32561679.html.

23. Meduza. 24 August 2023. «Это был человек сложной судьбы. Талантливый человек». https://meduza.io/feature/2023/08/24/eto-byl-chelovek-slozhnoy-sudby-talantlivyy-chelovek.

24. Nastoyashcheye Vremya. 24 August 2023. Лагерь ЧВК "Вагнер" в Беларуси демонтируют, разобрана треть палаток – спутниковый снимок. https://www.currenttime.tv/a/belarus-lager-vagnerovtsev/32563029.html.

25. Denis Korotkov. Dosye Center. 14 August 2023. Казаки, эльф и Аркадий Ротенберг. https://dossier.center/konvoy/.

26. Kavkaz Realii. 28 August 2023. Украинская разведка заявила о взрыве в казарме кадыровцев в оккупированном Энергодаре. https://www.kavkazr.com/a/ukrainskaya-razvedka-zayavila-o-vzryve-v-kazarme-kadyrovtsev-v-okkupirovannom-energodare/32568422.html.

27. RAPSI. 29 August 2023. ФСБ задержала жителя Калужской области за подготовку теракта. https://www.rapsinews.ru/incident_news/20230829/309167825.html.

28. Vazhnyye istorii. 29 August 2023. В Петербурге похоронили Валерия Чекалова — заместителя Евгения Пригожина в ЧВК «Вагнер», погибшего вместе с ним при крушении самолета. ekalova-zamestitelya-yevgeniya-prigozhina-v-chvk-vagner-pogibshego-vmeste-s-nim-pri-krushenii-samoleta/.

29. RFE/RL. 25 August 2023. Lukashenka Says 'Core' Of Wagner Fighters Will Remain In Belarus. https://www.rferl.org/a/belarus-lukashenka-prigozhin-wagner-fighters/32564974.html.

You can learn more about Threatologist and how I can help you design, implement, and deliver reliable, data-driven projects to track security threats in Russia and Eurasia by going to Threatologist.com.

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