Beslan terrorist identified; MoD takeover of Wagner; Wagner in Belarus and popular culture; lack of security service accountability

7 September 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.

Terrorism and insurgency

Pro-Kremlin daily Izvestiya reports that investigators have managed to identify one of the terrorists involved in the 2004 Beslan school siege, 19 years after the event. According to officials, five of 32 perpetrators were previously unknown, but now DNA evidence has confirmed ‘militant no.11’ as Ingushetian native Aslanbek Parchiyev (3).


John Lechner and Sergey Eledinov argue that the Russian Ministry of Defence will attempt to take control of Russian PMC Wagner following Prigozhin's recent death. But they question whether they have the personnel or knowledge to do so properly (1). Kimberley Marten has advanced a similar argument, arguing that “It is hard to believe that the Russian Defense Ministry has the desire or resources, especially given the centrality of the war in Ukraine to Russian military interests, to command and control commercial guard forces, or manage their contracts with foreign governments” (10). In a related news story, Vazhnyye istorii reported on an audio message disseminated on pro-Wagner social media channels, in which a purported representative of the group encourages members to find other work in light of competition from the Defence Ministry and Rosgvardia in the Middle East and Africa and limitations imposed on the group’s ability to work in Ukraine (6).


Kremlin press secretary Dmitriy Peskov ruled out an international investigation into the plane crash that killed Prigozhin, claiming the Investigative Committee are investigating deliberate sabotage as one of the possible causes (2).


The authorities in Poland, Latvia and Lithuania declared that they were ready to close their borders with Belarus in the event of a “critical incident” there, such as an armed clash or massive influx of migrants. Poland’s Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński said the countries had demanded that Belarus evict Wagner from its territory (7). Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka labelled the calls “unfounded and stupid” (8).


In an article for The New Yorker, Alex Ross has explored the influence of Wagner the musician on Wagner the group, and the ways in which the symbology of Wagner — long associated with the Nazis — has been mediated through Russian culture and Hollywood films (9). Honestly, I’m not sure it will help you develop a significantly deeper understanding of the PMC in any practical way, but it’s interesting nevertheless!

Semi-state security services

Human rights activists claim that, over the last 30 years, more than 8,000 people have been the victims of forced disappearance in the North Caucasus — 3,000 to 5,000 of which disappeared in the Second Chechen War. However, the security services have only been prosecuted in a handful of cases (four), creating a culture of impunity. The activists were talking at an online roundtable called Abductions and Forced Disappearances in the North Caucasus (4). The Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre and the Stichting Justice Initiative recently submitted a joint report on short-term enforced disappearances to the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, in response to a call for inputs by the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (5).

Source list

1. John Lechner and Sergey Eledinov. Open Democracy Russia. 30 August 2023. Now Prigozhin is gone, what happens to Wagner?

2. Interfax. 30 August 2023. Песков объяснил отказ от международного расследования крушения Embraer версией СК о злодеянии.

3. Yana Sturma. Izvestiya. 1 September 2023. ОБЩЕСТВО 1 сентября 2023, 00:01 В списках значится: личность неопознанного захватчика школы в Беслане установлена спустя 19 лет.

4. Caucasian Knot. 31 August 2023. Правозащитники указали на безнаказанность виновных в насильственных исчезновениях на Северном Кавказе.

5. Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre and the Stichting Justice Initiative. 2023. Submissions in reply to the call for inputs on the notion of short-term enforced disappearance. Available at:

6. Vazhnyye istorii. 30 August 2023. ЧВК «Вагнер» предложила бойцам найти другую работу из-за конкуренции с Минобороны и Росгвардией в Африке и на Ближнем Востоке.

7. BBC Russian Service. 31 August 2023. ЕС требует убрать из Беларуси наемников «Вагнера». Польша, Литва и Латвия готовы полностью закрыть границы.

8. Belta. 31 August 2023. Лукашенко назвал необоснованными и глупыми требования о выводе ЧВК "Вагнер" из Беларуси.

9. Alex Ross. The New Yorker. 2 September 2023. Deciphering the Wagner Group’s Love for Wagner.

10. Kimberley Marten. Russia Matters. 1 September 2023. Why the Wagner Group Cannot Be Easily Absorbed by the Russian Military—and What That Means for the West.

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