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Murdered Russians Were Reporting on Mercenaries in Central African Republic

Financed by Putin critic Khodorkovsky, team was investigating the presence of the shadowy Wagner Group in the war-torn country.

2 August 2018

Moscow is downplaying suggestions that three Russian journalists killed in the Central African Republic (CAR) were investigating a private military organization with links to the Kremlin called the Wagner Group.

 

Orkhan Dzhemal
Veteran war correspondent Orkhan Dzhemal (pictured), 51, filmmaker Alexander Rastorguyev, 47, and cameraman Kirill Radchenko, 33, were killed Monday when their vehicle was ambushed, The Telegraph reports.

 

The men were making a documentary on the reported activity in the CAR of private military organizations including the Wagner Group. In a statement, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the exiled Russian businessman, said the group had been cooperating with his organization and added, “These were brave men who were not prepared simply to collect documentary material, but wanted to ‘feel’ it in the palms of their hands.”

 

Local officials said they were killed by Arabic-speaking, “turbaned gunmen” who tried to steal their car.

 

Fighting between government forces and rebel groups has racked the CAR since 2012. Rebels control significant swathes of territory.

 

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed talk of investigations into private military groups in the CAR as “nonsense.” In a Facebook post yesterday, Zakharova gave no details about the alleged activity of Wagner in the country, instead shifting the topic to the previously announced presence of Russian military and civilian instructors there, which she said was at the request of CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera.

 

Wagner is reportedly financed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, and has been active in the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts, AFP writes. A U.S. court has charged Prigozhin with attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump.

 

Wagner mercenaries were said to be among about 100 fighters killed in a U.S. airstrike on Syria in February. According to the Russian investigative news site Fontanka, the number of its troops in Syria has been as high as 3,000, The Washington Post reported.

 

Last winter, shortly after the UN Security Council approved Russia’s request to supply the CAR with light arms and ammunition, there were suggestions that the Wagner Group was looking to deploy a contingent to the conflict-ridden country, according to Stratfor, a geopolitical analytical group. 

 

“We can assume the Kremlin gave the green light to Wagner’s activities in the CAR when the leadership of the country was visiting Russia” in May, Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told AFP.

 

 

  • Zakharova said the three journalists traveled to the CAR as tourists, and the Russian embassy there was not aware of their presence in the country. CAR government spokesman Ange Maxime Kazagui also said they entered the country on tourist visas and had not registered for media accreditation, the Committee to Project Journalists writes.

 

  • Kazagui said the three journalists “took risks that, in my view, were badly underestimated,” as quoted by AFP.

 

  • Yekaterinburg journalist Maxim Borodin, who had reported on the deaths of three local men, allegedly Wagner employees, in last winter’s Syrian raid, died of a fall from his apartment balcony in April. Officials said there was no sign of foul play.

 

  • The U.S. Treasury blacklisted the Wagner Group and its founder Dmitry Utkin in 2016 for having “recruited and sent soldiers to fight alongside separatists in eastern Ukraine.”

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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