Mikhail Vatanin, the Wagner leader with influence and business interests

Mikhail Vatanin is a former head of security for Russian PMC Wagner. He reportedly exercises considerable influence, but verifiable information is limited.

Mikhail Vatanin photo

Mikhail Vatanin does not currently occupy a formal position within Russian private military company (PMC) Wagner, but has previously acted as the group’s head of security. He reportedly exercises considerable influence over Pavel Prigozhin, the son and heir of late Wagner owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin. Vatanin may therefore play an important role in shaping the future of the group. However, most open-source information traces back to just a couple of low-quality sources and cannot be independently verified, making it difficult to assess the true extent of his influence or its current status. Much more information is available on Vatanin’s business interests, suggesting opportunities for filling sanctions gaps.

Date profile information last updated: 3 November 2023.

Vatanin’s behind the scenes influence within Wagner

Vatanin acted as head of security for Wagner between May and October 2023 (2, 3). According to both Rucriminal.info and the VChk-OGPU Telegram channel, Vatanin exercises considerable influence over Pavel Prigozhin, the son of late Wagner owner Yevgeniy and the man who has assumed ownership of many of the assets of Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s empire (4, 5). VChk-OGPU reported that Vatanin stepped down from his formal role as part of purge of Pavel’s efforts to purge the organisation but nevertheless retains his influence over Pavel (6).

VChk-OGPU alleged that Vatanin’s ongoing influence over Pavel Prigozhin stems in part from his control over shell companies – meaning that Pavel’s wealth is in the form of “shares that are registered to nominal owners, [and] can very easily disappear in an unknown direction” (7).

Vatanin’s role in the Wagner ‘coup attempt’ and Prigozhin’s death

VChk-OGPU claimed that Vatanin played an important role in organising the failed Wagner ‘coup attempt’ in June 2023 (8), an event that saw Wagner fighters march across Russia in defiance of the Kremlin.

The Telegram channel also implied that Vatanin was responsible for security issues that led to Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s death. In one post, it alleged that, after he assumed his role as head of Wagner’s security, “Vatanin almost completely replaced all the key representatives of the security service. And this all led as a result to Prigozhin’s explosion on the plane” (9). The implied accusation appears to be one of incompetence, rather than malice.

The challenge of limited information in evaluating Vatanin

The true extent of Vatanin’s influence, and his relationships within, the Wagner group are difficult to assess. Unlike Andrey Troshev (Sedoy) and Anton Yelizarov (Lotus) – two other key figures in post-Prigozhin Wagner whom I have already profiled – Vatanin has attracted no attention from investigative journalists or experts on Wagner.

Instead, almost every piece of open-source information about Vatanin’s role within Wagner traces to the VChk-OGPU Telegram channel, with the compromat website Rucriminal.info providing some supplementary information. All traditional media coverage of Vatanin’s influence traces back to these sources. The only information that can be independently verified pertains to Vatanin’s business interests, which are detailed below.

Vatanin in many ways illustrates some of the key difficulties in evaluating Wagner. Much of what we know about the internal functioning of the group, and about who has relations with whom, is based on information from Telegram channels that cannot be triangulated. This is often then laundered through media outlets and other supposedly reputable sources that pay little heed to the reliability of the information or the possible agendas of the source. Vatanin has not yet engaged in activity that attracts considerable media attention, nor has he engaged in much self-publicity – which is the only reason this second stage of laundering has not yet happened.

Vatanin’s key relationships, inside and outside Wagner

Network map showing Mikhail Vatanin's relationships
A map of who Vatanin is linked to, based in open-source reporting. Relationships between other actors are only visualised if they are mentioned in reporting on Vatanin, and are not necessarily indicative of their wider network.
The relationships explained
ActorRelationship
Alyans-Stroykonstruktsiya (ceased trading)Vatanin listed as a participant/founder of company (10).
Amelin, SergeyAccording to Rucriminal.info, Vatanin partially controlled the umbrella companies used to launder money received by Amelin’s Oboronservis (11).
ATR UralskayaNetwork of business centres reportedly controlled by Vatanin (12).
Beton-Stroykonstruktsiya (ceased trading)
Vatanin listed as a participant/founder of company (13).
Gaan, StanislavGaan listed as general director of Beton-Stroyconstruktsiya and Alyans-Stroykonstruktsiya, with same documents listing Vatanin and Gornev/Gorev as participants or founders (14, 15).
Gornev/Gorev, DenisGaan listed as general director of Beton-Stroyconstruktsiya and Alyans-Stroykonstruktsiya, with same documents listing Vatanin and Gornev as participants or founders (16, 17).
Kemaykina, TamaraThe mother of Nikolay Kemaykin and, until 2021, the registered owner of the ATR Uralskaya business centres that Vatanin reportedly controls (18).
Kemaykin, NikolayVatanin’s brother or half-brother (19, 20).
KoptosVatanin listed as a participant/founder of the company (21).
Krasivyy Gorod (ceased trading)Vatanin listed as a participant/founder of the company (22).
Orly (ceased trading)Vatanin registered as general director of company (23).
Prigozhin, PavelThe VChK-OGPU Telegram channel cited claims by an anonymous source that Vatanin “completely controlled” Prigozhin (24).
Prigozhin, YevgeniyHis appointment as head of Wagner’s security sometimes discussed in terms of him being in charge of Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s personal security, rather than that of the organisation as a whole (25).
Primaris (ceased trading)Vatanin listed as a participant/founder of company (26).
Romanova, NatalyaRomanova listed as general director of Primaris, with same documents listing Vatanin and Aleksandr A. Semchenkov as participants or founders (27).
Semchenkov, Aleksandr AleksandrovichVatanin registered two people with the same name but different dates of birth at his St Petersburg apartment in the mid-2000s, when he was in the Interior Ministry, as part of a money laundering operation (28). Semchenkov is listed as the general director of Stroyimpuls DSK-3, with Vatanin also listed as a participant/founder of the company (29). Semchenkov also listed as participant/founder of Primaris alongside Vatanin (30).
Semchenkov, Aleksandr VasilyevichVatanin and Semchenkov reportedly co-manage business centres and facilities in St Petersburg. The registration of the other Semchenkov was carried out to benefit A.V.Semchenkov (31).
Skrylev, AlekseySkrylev is listed alongside Vatanin as a participant/founder of Stroyimpuls DSK-3 (32).
Skrylev, AndreyReportedly took over the ATR Uralskaya business centres from Tamara Kemaykina in 2021 (33).
Skrylev, ValeriyFather of Andrey Skrylev and linked to the Stroyimpuls business structures (34).
Smirnov, AleksandrSmirnov, a former head of the St Petersburg criminal police and deputy head of the FSIN, reportedly recommended Vatanin to Yevgeniy Prigozhin for his role as head of security in Wagner (35).
Smirnov, KirillSmirnov is listed as general director of Koptos, with Vatanin listed as a participant/founder in the same company (36).
Stroyimpuls DSK-3 (ceased trading)Vatanin listed as a participant/founder of company (37).
Stroymetallkonstruktsiya Severo-Zapad (ceased trading)Vatanin listed as a participant/founder of company (38).
Tumasyan, ArturTumasyan listed as general director of Stroymetallkonstruktsiya Severo-Zapad, with Vatanin as a participant or founder (39).
Voronin, ViktorVoronin was a former head of Department K of the FSB and reportedly acted as Vatanin’s patron (40).

Family

The VChK-OGPU Telegram channel identifies Nikolay Kemaykin as Vatanin’s deceased brother – although half brother seems more likely given that it refers to Tamara Kemaykina as Nikolay’s mother, rather than Vatanin’s. Nikolay was reportedly a drug dealer; one post on the channel claims that he was killed in Thailand (41), another in Vietnam (42).

Business interests

While much of the information on Vatanin cannot be independently verified, the Unified State Register of Legal Persons does corroborate some of the information about Vatanin’s extensive and complicated business interests, which account for most of the relations mapped above.

Rucriminal.info accused Vatanin of effectively helping to launder money obtained from state contracts by Sergey Amelin. Amelin was a contractor who reportedly died after being questioned over his involvement in the Oboronservis case, a major corruption scandal at the Russian Ministry of Defence (43). According to the Rucriminal.info website, Vatanin and a “group of ‘lawyers’ controlled Stroyimpuls, which acted as an umbrella for several companies used to launder the money. The website also claimed that Vatanin, then an employee of the Interior Ministry, produced forged documents, first for Amelin’s people and later for Prigozhin’s. As a reward for his work, Vatanin acquired control of the Stroyimpuls DSK-3 company in 2008 (44).

VChK-OGPU in turn claimed that Vatanin co-manages various business facilities in St Petersburg, together with Aleksandr Vasilyevich Semchenkov, the son of a KGB general. Vatanin allegedly used a near-namsake, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Semchenkov, to register the interests of A.V. Semchenkov. VChK-OGPU also alleged that several of Vatanin’s relatives are in charge of a variety of companies operating from high-value locations in St Petersburg (45).

The Unified State Register confirms that Vatanin has either current or historical interests in a number of companies. He is listed as the General Director of the defunct Orly company (46), and a participant or founder of six other defunct entities: Alyans-Stroykonstruktsiya (47), Beton-Stroykonstruktsiya (48), Krasivyy Gorod (49), Primaris (50), Stroyimpuls DSK-3 (51), and Stroymetallkonstruktsiya Severo-Zapad (52). Vatanin is registered as participant or founder of one company still in operation: Koptos, whose main form of activity is listed as trading automobiles and light transport vehicles (53). Vatanin’s extensive involvement in company registrations adds credence to the claim that he could exercise control over some of the shell companies that form part of the Prigozhin empire.

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Vatanin’s biography: The road to Wagner

Basic details

Full name:Mikhail Nikolayevich Vatanin
Variants and nicknames:None reported
Date of birth:12 October 1973 (54, 55)
Place of birth:Not reported.
Place of residence:St Petersburg
Citizenship:Russian Federation (56)
Passport number:Not reported
Other identification numbers:Individual identification number 781122017701 (used on all the company registrations listed above)
Military/police rank:Not reported
Awards:Not reported

Education

Not reported.

Professional background

VChK-OGPU reports that Vatanin is a former police officer for the Main Directorate of the Interior Ministry for St Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast. He worked in the criminal investigations department and headed the public security police department for St Petersburg’s Nevskiy Rayon and Leningrad Oblast’s Volkhovskiy Rayon (57).

Vatanin within Wagner

VChK-OGPU claims Vatanin joined Wagner in early 2023, having been recommended to Yevgeniy Prigozhin by Aleksandr Smirnov, a former head of the St Petersburg criminal police and later deputy head of the Federal Penitentiary Service. Vatanin started out as a security advisor to Prigozhin, but was swiftly elevated, in May 2023, to the role of head of security for Wagner (58).

Digital Vatanin

An Instagram profile with the username “kop_mik” uses a profile picture with tattoos matching widely circulated photos of Vatanin. The profile had 320 posts and 42 followers but is marked private (59). A “Mikhail Vatanin” profile on VK (https://vk.com/id7808696) is also marked private, but associated photos similarly match Vatanin’s. Posts harvested by social media aggregators mostly consist of photos of a muscular Vatanin posing, but allow for him to be identified by his extensive tattoos on his arms (60).However, if the Anton Yelizarov who owns the Donjon interior design company and the Anton Yelizarov who is a prominent commander in the Wagner Group are indeed one and the same person, then Yelizarov has historically operated a number of social media accounts in the company’s name, in addition to the aforementioned company website. None of the accounts have been active since 2018:

International response: Vatanin not yet on the sanctions radar

Vatanin has not been sanctioned by Ukraine, the United States, the United Kingdom, or the European Union – despite his seniority within Wagner. This is likely a consequence of the negligible media attention that he has attracted.

However, Vatanin has occupied a formal position within Wagner, meaning there is little reason for him not to be included under sanctions regimes. Moreover, the number of current and historical business interests that he has maintained suggest that he may possess assets that are more vulnerable to sanctions than other Wagner actors – although the extent of this vulnerability and its potential to influence Vatanin’s future activities should not be exaggerated.

Sources

Show sources

(1) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. Восточно-Украинский разлом. Accessed at https://novayagazeta.eu/articles/2023/10/03/vostochno-ukrainskii-razlom on 9 October 2023.
(2) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. Telegram. 21 September 2023. Accessed at https://t.me/vchkogpu/41939 on 1 November 2023.
(3) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. Telegram. 10 November 2023. Accessed at https://t.me/vchkogpu/42618 on 1 November 2023.
(4) Timofey Grishin. Rucriminal.info. 8 October 2023. Три двойника генерала госбезопасности. Accessed at https://rucriminal.info/ru/material/tri-dvoynika-generala-gosbezopasnosti on 1 November 2023.
(5) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. See note (3).
(6) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. See note (3).
(7) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. See note (2).
(8) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. See note (2).
(9) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. Telegram. 5 October 2023. Accessed at https://t.me/vchkogpu/42256 on 2 November 2023.
(10) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “АЛЬЯНС-СТРОЙКОНСТРУКЦИЯ”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. Accessed at https://egrul.nalog.ru/index.html on 2 November 2023.
(11) Timofey Grishin. Rucriminal.info. See note (4).
(12) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. Telegram. 17 October 2023. Accessed at https://t.me/vchkogpu/42855 on 1 November 2023.
(13) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “БЕТОН-СТРОЙКОНСТРУКЦИЯ”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. Accessed at https://egrul.nalog.ru/index.html on 2 November 2023.
(14) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “БЕТОН-СТРОЙКОНСТРУКЦИЯ”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (13).
(15) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “АЛЬЯНС-СТРОЙКОНСТРУКЦИЯ”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (10).
(16) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “БЕТОН-СТРОЙКОНСТРУКЦИЯ”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (13).
(17) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “АЛЬЯНС-СТРОЙКОНСТРУКЦИЯ”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (10).
(18) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. Telegram. See note (12).
(19) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. See note (2).
(20) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. Telegram. See note (12).
(21) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “КОПТОС”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. Accessed at https://egrul.nalog.ru/index.html on 2 November 2023.
(22) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “КРАСИВЫЙ ГОРОД”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. Accessed at https://egrul.nalog.ru/index.html on 2 November 2023.
(23) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “ОРЛИ”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. Accessed at https://egrul.nalog.ru/index.html on 2 November 2023.
(24) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. See note (2).
(25) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. Telegram. See note (12).
(26) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “ПРИМАРИС”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. Accessed at https://egrul.nalog.ru/index.html on 2 November 2023.
(27) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “ПРИМАРИС”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (26).
(28) Timofey Grishin. Rucriminal.info. See note (4).
(29) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “СТРОЙИМПУЛЬС ДСК-3”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. Accessed at https://egrul.nalog.ru/index.html on 2 November 2023
(30) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “ПРИМАРИС”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (26).
(31) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. Telegram. See note (12).
(32) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “СТРОЙИМПУЛЬС ДСК-3”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (29).
(33) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. Telegram. See note (12).
(34) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. Telegram. See note (12).
(35) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. Telegram. See note (12).
(36) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “КОПТОС”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (21).
(37) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “СТРОЙИМПУЛЬС ДСК-3”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (29).
(38) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “СТРОЙМЕТАЛЛКОНСТРУКЦИЯ СЕВЕРО-ЗАПАД”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. Accessed at https://egrul.nalog.ru/index.html on 2 November 2023.
(39) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “СТРОЙМЕТАЛЛКОНСТРУКЦИЯ СЕВЕРО-ЗАПАД”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (38).
(40) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. See note (2).
(41) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. See note (2).
(42) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. Telegram. See note (12).
(43) Investigative Committee denies death of businessman after questioning. TASS. 23 January 2013. Accessed at https://tass.com/russia/688738 on 3 November 2023.
(44) Timofey Grishin. Rucriminal.info. See note (4).
(45) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. Telegram. See note (12).
(46) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “ОРЛИ””. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (23).
(47) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “АЛЬЯНС-СТРОЙКОНСТРУКЦИЯ”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (10).
(48) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “БЕТОН-СТРОЙКОНСТРУКЦИЯ”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (13).
(49) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “КРАСИВЫЙ ГОРОД”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (22).
(50) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “ПРИМАРИС”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (26).
(51) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “СТРОЙИМПУЛЬС ДСК-3”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (29).
(52) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “СТРОЙМЕТАЛЛКОНСТРУКЦИЯ СЕВЕРО-ЗАПАД”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (38).
(53) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “КОПТОС”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (21).
(54) Ватанин Михаил, Санкт-Петербург. Botsman. Undated. Accessed at https://botsman.org/people/7808696/ on 2 November 2023.
(55) Mihail Vatanin. Bigbookname.com. Undated. Accessed at https://bigbookname.com/en/user/mihail-vatanin-7808696 on 1 November 2023.
(56) ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ “КОПТОС”. Unified State Register of Legal Persons. See note (21).
(57) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. See note (2).
(58) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. See note (2).
(59) Untitled post. VChK-OGPU. See note (2).
(60) Ватанин Михаил, Санкт-Петербург. Botsman. See note (54).