Putin Chef’s Kisses of Death: Russia’s Shadow Army’s State-Run Structure Exposed – bellingcat

Putin Chef’s Kisses of Death: Russia’s Shadow Army’s State-Run Structure Exposed – bellingcat
— Read on www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and-europe/2020/08/14/pmc-structure-exposed/

Yevgeny Prigozhin can be described as the Renaissance man of deniable Russian black ops. An ex convict who served time for robbery, fraud and involving a minor in drinking and criminal activity, he began his legitimate business career in the 90s as a St. Petersburg restaurant owner and later as caterer for the Kremlin.

his unofficial operations fit the profile of an authoritarian state’s shadow security apparatus: industrial-scale manufacturing of fake-news, intimidating journalists, election interference, political engineering, and actual clandestine military operations. 

Prigozhin was famously indicted in the US over the role of his troll factory in trying to influence the 2016 elections in favor of Donald Trump, a charge he flatly denies to this day. His troll-factory generated one of the largest known online disinformation campaigns, churning out 71,000 tweets aimed at presenting Russia’s version of events in the downing of flight MH17. The same troll infrastructure posted thousands of messages promoting Brexit. Prigozhin has also been linked to Kremlin-friendly political engineering across dozens of African countries while he has been sanctioned by the US over his funding for the Wagner Group, an unincorporated private military company with a history of clandestine operations in Eastern Ukraine, Syria and several African countries. It was most recently accused of placing booby-trapped minesaround Libya’s Tripoli. The EU has yet to sanction him or his metastatic group over any of his activities.

widespread lack of motivation, infighting and alcohol-driven dysfunction at these operations, more indicative of bloated, government-funded junkets than a private operation with clear goals and outcomes.

Prigozhin’s troll-farm operations transitioning from a purely domestic political tool – used primarily to trash opposition figures and independent journalists – to an ambitious international operation with more and more efforts allocated to foreign interference operations – first in Ukraine, and later globally.

By early 2014….Russia needed quick – and deniable – military presence in Crimea, the concept of a private, legally unincorporated, shadow army employing skilled soldiers with prior combat experience, appeared to be the perfect solution.

By March 2014, Russian “mercenaries” were already in Ukraine, and the Wagner legend had been born. After the unit’s successful initial deployment  in Crimea and Donbass, in 2015 the unit received a permanent training base at a top-secret GRU facility at the village of Molkyno, near Krasnodar airpport. Wagner’s largest international deployment so far has been in Syria, where according to a former Wagner officer, at least 2,500 mercenaries were deployed, under the GRU’s and FSB’s supervision, to assist pro-government Syrian forces.

In 2018 and 2019, western and Russian media began reporting on a growing presence of Russian political strategists in various African countries, offering to provide electoral support – including cash, advice and personal protection – to Russia-friendly candidates.

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