Confidential

Ukrainian Special Operations Forces (UASOF)

UASOF operator from the 73rd Maritime Special Operations Centre

The Ukrainian Special Operations Forces (UASOF) are a special operations command and one of the five branches of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Born and based in Kyiv in 2017. Moreover, UASOF are often tasked with dangerous and politically sensitive operations, which other regular units would not be able to conduct.

The UASOF motto is “I Come At You!” (Іду на ви! In Ukrainian) and is from Sviatoslav The Brave, a Grand Prince of Kyiv in the 10th century. Known for his bravery, Sviatoslav managed to defeat great armies and expand his reign.

The emblem of the Special Operations Forces represents a silver wolf with a gold belt. Behind the wolf, there is a wreath of silver leaves. The motto is written on a gold ribbon under the wreath.

Ukrainian Special Operations Forces (SSO)
UASOF emblem

History of Ukrainian Special Operations Forces

The Special Forces Command was founded from remnant units of the Ukrainian Chief Directorate of Intelligence (HUR), which were originally formed from Ukrainian-based Soviet GRU Spetsnaz (then Ukrainian SSR).

In 2007, the then Defence Minister Hrytsenko published a document describing the creation of the Special Operations Forces. The Office of the UASOF and the training centre were officially formed and the training with the US special forces began.

However, in 2011, the Ukrainian MoD decided to dismantle the Special Operations.

At the beginning of 2014, during the Crimea Crisis, most of the Ukrainian military units were already deployed around the world, such as in Kosovo and Somalia. Consequently, the government decided to call the Ukrainian Spetsnaz forces. These forces were inherited from the Soviet armed forces and were the only ones at that time suitable to defend Ukraine.

During that period, Ukrainian Spetsnaz forces were able to neutralise terrorist cells, and clear cities captured by the enemy.

In September 2014, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, specifically Crimea, and the threat that Russia was posing, the then Ukrainian President Poroshenko decided to accelerate the process to form again the UASOF.

In order to accomplish this task, first deputy commander and chief of staff of the Ukrainian airborne forces, Sergei Krivonos, was appointed as the head of the Special Operations Directorate of the General Staff of Ukraine. By the end of 2014, the unit was ready, with around 4,000 operatives.

Ukrainian Infantry Loadout video by our friend and collaborator Oxide

A New Chapter for the UASOF

In April 2015, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces took the decision to give control of the UASOF to the Ministry of Defence. Consequently, the MoD decided to dismantle and restore the unit.

A new concept for the Special Operations Forces was provided in the Strategic Defence Bulletin of Ukraine on the 5th of January 2016.

The MoD of Ukraine then appointed Major General Igor Lunvov as Commander of the UASOF and Krivonos as the First Deputy Commander. After the first 29 recruits graduated from the UASOF training, President Poroshenko decided to establish the Special Operations Forces Day on the 29th of July.

Three years later, on the 24th of June 2019, the 140th Special Operations Forces Centre, a unit of the UASOF, became eligible to join the NATO Response Force (NRF). The NRF is a multinational force that consists of air, land, sea, and special forces units. Its main features are its high readiness and its technological advance.

For the first time, a non-NATO unit was certified as a Special Operations Forces (SOF) unit.

Operators of the the 140th Special Operations Forces Centre during NATO exercise Flaming Sword 2018

In that same year, the MoD decided to implement a new course of information and psychological operations, to add skills to the UASOF operators.

Due to the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence increased the number of operators of the Special Operations Forces, adding 1,000 members. The current number of UASOF members is around 3,000.

Structure of the UASOF

In 2015, the structure of the UASOF deeply changed and expanded.

The Special Operations Forces are divided in:

Command of Special Operations Forces, based in Berdychiv, Zhytomyr region

  • 99th Command and Support Battalion
  • 142nd Education and Training Centre

Land warfare and special purpose units

  • 3rd Special Purpose Regiment “Prince Svetoslav the Brave”, based in Kropyvnytskyi, Kirovograd region. The unit was formed on the basis of the Soviet 10th Special Purpose Brigade.
  • 8th Special Purpose Regiment “Iziaslav Mstislavich”, formed on the basis of the Soviet 8th Special Purpose Brigade, is based in Khmelnitsky, Khmelnitsky region.
  • 140th Special Operations Forces Centre, based in Khmelnitsky, Khmelnitsky. This is the most elite unit in the UASOF and it also took part in the hostilities in Donbass in 2014.

The tasks of these three units are special reconnaissance missions and direct-action operations.

Aviation special purpose unit

  • 35th Mixed Aviation Squadron, based in Havryshiyka Air Base, Vinnytsia region. This unit is subordinate to the 456th Transport Aviation Brigade of the Air Force of Ukraine.

Established in 2019, this unit is mainly involved in the extraction, resupply, and rescue of small unit teams in Ukraine.

Naval special purpose unit

73rd Frogman during training
  • 73rd Maritime Special Operations Centre, inspired by the Soviet 17th Naval Special Purpose Brigade, is based in Pervomaisky Island, Mykolaiv region.

This unit focuses on maintaining security in the Black Sea and also counterterrorism maritime missions.

Information and psychological warfare units

  • 16th Information Warfare and Psychological Operations Centre, based in Huiva, Zhytomyr region

  • 72nd Information Warfare and Psychological Operations Centre, based in Brovary, Kyiv region

  • 74th Information Warfare and Psychological Operations Centre, based in Lviv

  • 83rd Information Warfare and Psychological Operations Centre, based in Odessa

Responsibilities of the Special Operations Forces

The Law on Defence of the Ukrainian government defines a special operation as a set of interconnected and coordinated special actions. These actions both involve the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces (UASOF) and the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

The UASOF tasks include:

  • Taking part in raids behind enemy lines
  • Collecting intelligence
  • Building an intelligence network
  • Carrying out counterterrorism activities
  • Being able to search and evacuate either hostages or prisoners
  • Cooperating with international special forces units
  • Carrying out psychological operations
  • Espionage
  • Participating in operations aimed to fight drug and arms trafficking
  • Training of foreign police and armies

UASOF Training

The Special Operations Forces training centre is based in Khmelnitsky and this is where the recruits go through the UASOF Qualification Centre. The selection course, also funded by the United States, was developed with NATO partners from Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

The requirements to access the selection course are extremely high and only 10% of the candidates are usually selected.

The training program lasts five weeks and each week is characterised by harsh training and difficult tests aimed to bring down the weakest recruits.

Week 1

  • Swim for 100m
  • Run for 3km with an average pace of 5 minutes per km
  • Loaded march of 16km in less than three hours with a 14kg rucksack
  • A test of general physical training such as push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups

Week 2

  • 50 squats carrying a 16kg rucksack
  • Run for 8km with an average pace of 5 minutes per km
  • Loaded march of 13km in less than two hours, carrying a 16kg rucksack

Week 3

  • Sets of push-ups and pull-ups
  • 50 squats with an 18kg rucksack
  • Run for 10km with an average pace of 4’20’’ per km
  • Loaded march of 19km in less than four hours with an 18kg rucksack

Week 4

  • Sets of push-ups and pull-ups
  • 50 squats with a 23kg rucksack
  • Run for 10km with an average pace of 4’20’’ per km
  • Loaded march of 29km in less than four hours and 45 minutes with a 23kg rucksack

Week 5

  • Swim for 500m
  • Run for 5km with an average pace of 3’45’’ per km
  • Loaded march of 29km in less than four hours and 30 minutes carrying a 23km rucksack

After completing the selection course, the UASOF training focuses on heavy weapons, combat medicine, gathering intelligence, mountain warfare, military freefall, and combat engineering.

opertors35th Mixed Aviation Squadron of the Picture courtesy of the UASOF

UASOF Weapons and Equipment

The Special Operations Forces units are equipped with a variety of weapons including:

Semi-automatic pistols

  • Fort 14 and Fort 17
  • Glock 17

Automatic rifles

  • AKS-74U
  • AK-74M (Zenitco furniture, Magpul FG, PEQ-15, Trijicon ACOG, SRVV sling)
  • Fort 221
  • IPI Malyuk
  • Sig Sauer MCX

Others

  • Fort 301 as a sniper rifle
  • Barrett M82A3 as a sniper rifle
  • Fort 401
  • PKM light machine gun
  • FGM-148 Javelin
  • RPG-22
  • RPG-26
  • SAAB NLAW
  • FIM-92 Stinger
Servicemen of the Ukrainian SOF part of the 73rd Maritime Special Operations Centre during a room clearing exercise

Observed Kit:

  • Arc’teryx LEAF Minotaur Half Shell
  • Ops Core FAST High-cut
  • L3 Harris GPNVG-18 w/ battery pack
  • Crye Precision High Back Blast Belt w/ suspenders
  • WarTech UP-102 “Spotter” pouch
  • MTAC AK single mag pouch
  • Bastion “FORT” double grenade pouch
  • USGI NODs pouch
  • VX600 radio

Ukraine and, in particular, the UASOF received military equipment from various countries such as the United States.

In June 2020, the US State Department agreed to the selling of 16 SAFE Boats International Mark VI patrol boats to the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces.

In February 2021, Ukraine also received 84 small boats and 20 high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs).

The aviation unit has access to Mi-8 Hips and Mi-2 Hoplites helicopters, both made in Russia, and An-26 Curl planes. Since 2018, the UASOF has also used Mol H125 and H225 helicopters, made by a French company called Airbus Helicopters.

Joint Military Exercises

In the past 10 years, the Special Operations Forces participated in many joint military exercises with both NATO and non-NATO partners. The United States and other Western special forces extensively supported the training of the UASOF.

Northern Light

In 2003, the UASOF took part in the Northern Light 03 (NL 03) which took place in the Irish Sea. Twelve NATO nations and two partner nations, Sweden and Ukraine participated in this exercise focused on Crisis Response Operation.

The scenario used for that specific exercise depicted an armed insurgency in a non-NATO country that was threatening the international security interests.

In 2017, the UASOF, in particular, the 140th Special Operations Forces Centre attended the Flaming Sword 2017 Exercise in Lithuania. The exercise lasted three weeks and more than a thousand operators from nine countries took part.

In 2018, the American and Ukrainian Special Forces participated in the Combined Resolve XI Exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Centre in Hohenfels, Germany.

This exercise, aimed to improve the interoperability and the readiness of the units, comprehended 16 nations and more than 5,500 soldiers.

This was the first time that the UASOF took part in this exercise.

In 2020, the UASOF did a joint exercise with reconnaissance operators of the British Royal Navy. The operation was to board and clear the Royal Navy’s “Dragon” destroyer in Odessa. The training focused primarily on abduction, boarding, close combat, and clearing the vessel.

UASOF
(Source)

UASOF Activities in 2021

In 2021, the Ukrainian Special Operations forces participated in many joint exercises.

In June the UASOF conducted a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) defence training in the Chernobyl exclusion zone (in Pripyat). During the exercise, the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces had to look for a chemical laboratory, suspected to be the place where a terrorist group created a bomb. This exercise was part of the NRF evaluation process certification.

Sea Breeze

Between the 28th of June and the 10th of July, the US Sixth Fleet and the 73rd Maritime Special Operations Centre took part in the Sea Breeze 2021 Exercise in the Black Sea region.

UASOF

Ukraine and the United States started this cooperation in 1997, in order to bring together NATO members and its partners. Further, The 2021 Exercise focused on diving operations, interdiction operations, anti-submarine warfare, land manoeuvre warfare and rescue missions.

Saber Junction

In Early September the Ukrainian SOF took part in Saber Junction 21 in Hohenfels, Germany. While, European and African countries took part in this US-led exercise focused on land operations in a joint combined environment and readiness.

Rapid Trident

From the 20th of September to the 1st of October the UASOF took part in Rapid Trident 2021 Exercise in Yavoriv, Ukraine. The Rapid Trident is a US-led exercise and in 2021 focused on defence capabilities, readiness, and interoperability.

Ukrainian and Moldovan Land Forces train on Fast Rope Insertion/Extraction System (FRIES) and Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction System (SPIES) with use of a Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopter as part of Rapid Trident 2021 at Combat Training Center-Yavoriv near Yavoriv, Ukraine photo by Spc. Preston Hammon

Editor’s note

To support the brave members of UKSOF and the wider Ukrainian Armed Forces you can donate via special page here, and if you want to support the important humanitarian efforts in Ukraine you can donate to the Ukrainian Red Cross here.

We would like thank Oxide for his support and his efforts to raise funds for a number of Ukrainian organisations and we urge you to see his latest video on the matter!

Confidential

Zaslon: Russia’s Most Secretive Unit

Zaslon
Zaslon operators training at their headquarters

What is Zaslon?

Zaslon “Barrier or Screen” is Russia’s most secretive special-purpose unit within the Russian external security service, Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (SVR). It roughly resembles the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS)–also known as MI6.

If the SVR is Russia’s CIA or MI6 then Zaslon is comparable to the CIA’s Global Response Staff (GRS), the CIA’s high-security detail, or the even more secretive MI6s E-Squadron. Incorrectly, some sources claim that Zaslon is the equivalent of the CIA’s Special Activities Divison (SAD). 

According to a Swedish Defence source, Zaslon was established on 23 March 1997 but became operational in 1998 with around 300 members. Most open sources rely on a Komsomolskaia Gazeta report on the 4th of March 1998. Several sources state that Zaslon is attached to the 7th Department of Center for Self Security (CSB) of the SVR.

Responsibilities

“Zaslon” was mainly conceived to protect Diplomats and foreign operations conducted by the SVR. The Units’ responsibilities are as follows:

  • Armed protection of Russian diplomatic missions abroad, primarily in hostile  regions environments 

  • Protect high ranking Russian officials on foreign trips

  • Hostage rescue missions of Russian citizens abroad

  • Evacuation of Russian citizens and civilians of other countries from warzones

  • Protection of SVR employees during operational and intelligence work

  • Retrieve sensitive documents and equipment from embassies in emergencies

  • Protect host nation leadership (see Syria)

Training

As mentioned countless times, information about Zaslon is scarce and the information that is out there is often wrapped in speculation and sprinkled with hyperbole. However, from time to time there are rare spotlights that illuminate the dark corridors of the Russian security apparatus. On the 24th of December, 2018, Current head of the SVR, Sergei Naryshkin gave a documentary film crew, a tour of the SVR headquarters in the Yasenevo district in Moscow.

The documentary footage shows a group of SVR operators running Close-quarter combat drills and other weapon manipulation exercises. This was an unprecedented look into the inner workings of the SVR. Although, it was highly likely a controlled disclosure. Furthermore, there is absolutely no mention of Zaslon, yet, it is possible to identify that these operators are almost certainly Zaslon, due to their equipment, trademark olive coloured uniform and weapons of choice.

Equipment

With the close collaboration of Benjamin Shiff, Russian arms analyst and the founder of the Oxide Channel it was possible to identify what equipment Zaslon operators use, however, this is constantly changing to the theatre and mission requirements. Further, most special operations units in the world have a wide range of choice of equipment, compared to conventional forces, making a standard-issue equipment list tricky. 

Uniform

  • Blackhawk HPFU ITS  V1 Olive Drab 
  • Truspec Olive Drab Green uniform 
  • Multicam on rare occasions 

Weapons

  • AK-103 assault rifle 
  • AK-104 assault rifle 
  • Ak-74s assault rifle
  • PP-19-01 Vityaz submachine

Armour

  • Fort Goplit slick with Fort plates and Kevlar backer
  • Fort OD Molle Defender 2
  • Fort Grey pouches on velcro placard
  • TOR Helmet by Classcom
  • Western MICH 2000 helmet with SRVV helmet cover
  • HSGI “AO” Chest rig
  • HSGI Warbelt
  • Low profile coyote defender armoured vest (for VIPs)

Other

  • Embassy of Russia patches
  • SSRV patches on Fort vest
  • ESS Turbofan goggles
  • Mechanix gloves
Zaslon: Russia's Most Secretive Unit

Deny Zaslon Exists!

  • The infamous Vympel, Alpha Group, and GRU Spetsnaz have reached almost mythical status due to depictions in cinema, video games, literature, and other media. Zaslon, on the other hand, is rarely mentioned by the Russian state, academia, or media. In most cases, it is actively denied by leadership. 
  • In 2002, during an interview, the head of SVR Sergei Lebedev stated that “The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service is not set today with tasks that would require the mentioned special forces. That’s why we don’t have them,” 
  • In 2006, Colonel-General Vladimir Zavershinskii. The then first deputy director of the SVR, in an interview with Krasnaia Zvezda, said that the Spetsnaz element within the SVR would be undesirable. 
  • In 2014, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin posted on Twitter a picture with him flanked on both sides by Zaslon operators. It said in the post: “Thanks to officers of the Zaslon unit for providing security in the territory of Lebanon and Syria.” The post was almost immediately deleted but not before some sharp opensource intelligence sleuths captured it.

Where is Zaslon when you need them?

After the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, on December 19th, 2016. A lot of security experts voiced their concerns. How was it possible, in broad daylight, on live TV, that a high ranking Russian diplomat was so poorly protected? “Well, because Turkish authorities did not allow armed Russian security to be deployed in the country.”

Explained an anonymous Zaslon operator in an interview with Rosbalt. The anonymous operative went on to say that Zaslon would have saved the Ambo. Furthermore, judging from sightings and social media posts about Zaslon, Turkey is hardly a security nightmare such as Iraq or Syria.

Escape from Baghdad 

In 2003, On the eve of the US-led Iraqi invasion, 2 highly secretive Zaslon units were sent to Iraq and one separate unit to Iran. The units were tasked with protecting the embassy, diplomats, and sensitive materials. Interestingly, embassy protection was traditionally conducted by the Federal Border Service of the FSB, Russia’s internal security service. However, since Zaslon is an SVR unit, its mandate is considerably more expansive than that of traditional Embassy security.

Zaslon operatives operated closely with their counterparts of the Iraqi intelligence services. Unlike the CIA or MI6, Russian intelligence operatives didn’t have to work covertly. The operatives are also tasked with acquiring sensitive intelligence on Iraqi assets. 

The publication lays out 3 main activities for the Zaslon operators:

  1. Aquire sensitive intelligence to later influence the Iraqi post-war government.

  2. Identify and manipulate Russian political parties, groups and individuals that were on Saddam’s payroll. 

  3. Identify and recruit an Iraqi intelligence officer and agents around the globe.
Sergei Lavrov flanked by Zaslon operators in Iraq: Source Twitter

On June 3, 2006, 2 Zaslon operators together with 3 other Embassy employees were ambushed by an armed group called themselves the “Shura Mujahadeen Council”. One Zaslon operator, Vitaly Titov, was shot and killed at the market in Bagdhad, while the 4 others were taken by the militants. 

On Jun 19, 2006, militants of the Shura Muhadeen Council demanded the release of Chechnyan fighters from prison and the complete pullout of Russian forces from Chechnya within 48 hours. Two days later, the other Zaslon operator (Oleg Fodseev) together with his colleagues were beheaded and shot in front of a camera.

Both Zaslon operators were posthumously awarded the Order of Courage (Russian: Орден Мужества, Orden Muzhestva) in 2006. Fodseev’s body was found in 2012 and buried in Moscow. His killer was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010 after videos and pictures of the gruesome executions were found during a raid in his house.

This was Zaslon’s first public failure, somewhat similar to its CIA counterparts in Bengazi. When militants stormed and killed the US Ambo to Lybia and several GRS members. In both cases, lessons were learned albeit at a heavy cost. These lessons are now implemented in theatres like Syria.

Damascus Cover

In 2012, a Zaslon unit escorted the leader of the SVR, Mikhail Fradkov, during a visit to Damascus, Syria. According, to some sources, a group of Zaslon operators was deployed in Syria as early as May 10, 2013, both to protect Bashar al-Assad and high-ranking government officials, but also to recover sensitive documents and materials in the event of a collapse of the Syrian regime. 

In Syria, the presence of a  Zaslon unit is evident during Russia’s direct intervention in the conflict in September 2015. This detachment operates independently from the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (Russian: Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije) (GRU), military intelligence. Mark Galeotti, a Russia security analyst, stated the following:

“At the peak of the deployment, there was an otryad (detachment, the Spetsnaz equivalent of a battalion) of 230-250 men, probably drawn from several units, including Naval Spetsnaz from the 431st Naval Reconnaissance Point (or brigade). There was also a team of operators from the newly formed Special Operations Command (KSO), mainly snipers (or rather counter-snipers) and scouts. Indeed, the Conflict Intelligence Team, a civilian group that investigates Russian operations abroad..”  

The GRU and KSO operate closely with the Syrian Ministry of Defence in Damascus, unlike Zaslon.

The Zaslon unit is based in the Russian embassy on Omar Ben Al Khattab Street, located not far from Russian GRU officers in Defence. The unit can be used to protect Russian officials and buildings, or their Syrian counterparts, and also participate in training or mentoring missions (it seems that the Zaslon unit supports the Syrian mukhabarat, the infamous secret services of the Damascus regime). Much like the situation in Iraq, Zaslon is close enough to the fire to get access to sensitive materials and personnel from its Syrian counterparts if the regime falls. 

Zaslon: Russia's Most Secretive Unit
Zaslon operators in a training exercise with their SSO  counterparts in Syria. Source:@Russian_Defence

Zaslon Shows up in Afghanistan

2021 was a turbulent year for Afghanistan due to the retreat of most western powers from the country and lighting fast takeover by the Taliban. In such cases, strategic assets like Zaslon are paramount for Russia’s embassy in Kabul. Since Zaslon operatives are mandated to secure high ranking embassy staff, intel officers and intelligence materials it is only logical they would show up in Kabul. However, there were more sightings of Zaslon operators in Kabul such as during the State Duma elections in Russia. Below, there is a picture of a Zaslon operator protecting a ballot box in the Russian Embassy on 19 September 2021.

From Zaslon With Love

Zaslon may be Russia’s most secretive unit, but there are enough pieces of information floating online to make at least a silhouette. Maybe, even more so than their Western counterparts. Open Source reporting and online sleuths identified, successfully, Zaslon training video’s and equipment. To the point that it is now possible to ID a secretive Zaslon operator just by the vest, he is wearing! Even if Russian officials keep denying the unit’s existence, social media and the prevalence of smartphones continues to shed light on Zaslon. Sometimes, it is those same officials that do the identifying and when it is out it is out. Zaslon’s needs that smoke “screen” to operate in these hostile environments and when that smokescreen clears too soon, missions fail and painful lessons are learned.

 Special thanks to Benjamin Schiff and please check out the accompanying video on the Oxide Channel

This article was first published in February 2021

Confidential

Norwegian Arctic Policy: 12 Month Outlook

Norwegian Kystjegere conducting air mobile operations with the Royal Norwegian Air Force during exercise Arctic Hawk. Photo taken by Ole-Sverre Haugli/ Forsvare; via Flickr

Summary

The Arctic has been an area of international cooperation, but in the last 15 years, it has become an area of competition, both militarily and diplomatically. Norway finds itself in the middle of a power struggle between the United States and Russia, especially following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its involvement in Ukraine, further complicating Norwegian Arctic policy.

In the next 12 months, it is highly likely that Norway will keep supporting the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which emphasizes cooperation, the protection of the environment, the delimitation of each country, and research. The Norwegian government will balance the exploitation of natural resources and their protection, as stated in Norwegian Arctic policy.

It is highly likely that Norway will facilitate the US role in the region. It will also ease its participation in significant activities such as military ones. In the past years, the US interest in the region grew due to climate change as well as Russian expansion. It is highly likely that the US forces will take part in more military exercises in the area and that they will increase their presence.

Key Judgement 1

It is highly likely that Norway will try to stabilise its relationship with Russia due to its growing activity in the Arctic and its recent military modernisation. Norway is a close ally of the US, however, Norway cannot risk losing Russia as an economic partner.

Norwegian Arctic policy
Norway and Russia territorial dispute; via BBC
  • Russia represents a threat to Norway. Russia has now thirty active military bases in the area, including the new airbase on Franz Josef Land. This new base will allow Russia to conduct air missions over vast areas in the Arctic. Also present in the area are the Russian Northern Fleet and the Spetsnaz special marine forces.

  • It is highly likely that Norwegian Arctic policy, despite the Russian threat, will try to maintain balance with the neighbour country. Both countries’ goal is to maintain low tension in the region. They both benefit from their cooperation, which concerns search and rescue, shared fish stocks and ship traffic management.

  • It is highly likely that Russia will not endanger its relationship with Norway. This is due to its interest in the Northern Sea Route and consequently the Northeast Passage (NEP). The NEP develops along Russian and Norwegian coasts. The ice melting has allowed the exploitation of the route in the past years. This route represents a great alternative to the Suez Canal. In 2021, 65 transits were completed and 1052 permissions for navigation have been issued.

Key Judgement 2

It is highly likely that Norway will try to confine the Chinese role in the Arctic region, fearing its imminent expansion.

  • Despite Norwegian economic relations with China since 2016, Norway fears Chinese interest in the region. Its concern is based on past experiences where China has become involved. They resulted in environmental damage, debts, low standards, and shifty methods, which are all aspects that go against Norwegian Arctic policy.

  • In the past years, China limited its interest to research on environmental issues and climate change. But lately, its interest is increasing since China started defining itself as a near-Arctic state. China is now focusing on the natural resources present in the area and the development of the Russian Northern Sea Route.
Norwegian Arctic policy
Norwegian M109 self-propelled howitzer on deployment during exercise Joint Viking 17; photo taken by Ole-Sverre Haugli; via tu.no

Key Judgement 3

It is highly likely that Norwegian Arctic policy will focus its attention on preserving the culture and identity of the Sami population.

  • The Sami population is considered to amount to over 100,000 in the Arctic region. Most of the Sami population lives in Norway, where they have their own elected assembly. The Saami Council, which is interested in the protection environment, also takes part in the Arctic Council.

  • The Sami population are more vulnerable because of climate change, which threatens their territories and their survival.
Norwegian Kystjegere conducting air mobile operations with the Royal Norwegian Air Force during exercise Arctic Hawk. Photo taken by Ole-Sverre Haugli/ Forsvare; via Flickr

Intelligence cut-off date: 13th of December 2021

Confidential

The Caravan Hunters: Task Force Curtain

Caravan Hunters during the Caravan war

The Caravan War

What are the options available when facing an actor in an unconventional warfare environment? To cut off the supply chain and limit long-term operating capabilities, for example. In 1984, the Soviet Union decided to attempt this strategy in its own unconventional manner. The armed forces created brigades of caravan hunters to track down approximately 200 supply routes from Pakistan and Iran into Afghan territory.

Operation Curtain was as much detective work as it was the responsibility of special forces detachments. An estimation of 80,000 troops is needed to close or closely monitor the entire Afghanistan – Pakistan border. On the other hand, 2 brigades held the responsibility of monitoring the border. The caravan hunters faced an unlikely successful scenario, even if logistics and structure provided more support.  

In 1984, the Afghan war reached its mid-point mark and the Soviet Union, meanwhile, failed to deter the Mujahideen. The geographic conditions and nature of the war required an increase in support to deter the Caravans. The USSR doubled down on initial approaches. The creation of special forces detachments, or caravan hunters, along the borders marked the beginning of the ‘Caravan War’. Unorganised and semi-autonomous, by 1988 the detachments only managed to stop between 12-15% of caravans.

The structure and method of fighting Caravans

Operation Curtain likely depended on the nature and effectiveness of special forces. Although motorised rifle battalions monitored conventional routes, the supply of caravans required the use of unconventional warfare. The caravan hunters, stemming from GRU special forces, deployed in 2 brigades to prevent the flow of materials through ‘unconventional’ routes.

Despite the significance of the operation and its bureaucracy, the reinforcement of special forces was unorganised and rushed. The 15th and 22nd special brigades managed 4 detachments each, 6 being created, prepared, and deployed between 1984-1985. Simultaneously in 1984-85, reconnaissance units are strengthened within each detachment using MI-8 and MI-24 helicopters. In the end, the expansion and strengthening of the caravan hunters was compressed into a one-year margin including training.

  • 15th Brigade: 154th, 177th, 668th and 334th  detachments.
  • 22nd Brigade: 173rd, 370th, 186th, 411th detachments.
  • 459th special forces company in Kabul

Expertise and legend-status ≠ Success

Depending on the experienced detachments affected the reality of Operation Curtain. The first three detachments – 177th, 173rd and 154th – composed the original special forces deployed in Afghanistan, known as the ‘muslim battalions’. All of the personnel was initially intended to belong to an Asian ethnicity to increase the legitimacy in communities in Afghanistan.

Originating from the GRU special forces, the 154th detachment participated in the assault on Amin’s palace. The 177th detachment initially planned to operate in the Xi Xinjiang region in China and was composed of 300 Uyghur personnel. The expertise of the 3 detachments, all formed in 1979 and 1980, did not influence the performance of the rest of the hunters. The majority of caravan hunters remaining lacked the training needed to conduct raids, ambushes and seizures.

Operation Curtain: Low-Quality Training

The advantages of the secret nature of the caravan hunters ended wasted due to poor training. The concept of ‘separate motorised rifle battalions’ replaced the detachments to maintain the clandestine nature. Nevertheless, training in its majority was similar to a common motorised rifle division, with no infiltration, clandestine, or reconnaissance training. According to veteran Valery V. Marchenko, proving capabilities was for show more than action, and detecting caravan hunters was not difficult due to poor performance. For example, the 186th detachment failed to detect a group of surrounding enemies kidnapping a unit scout, or hostages fleeing through man-dug tunnels. In another example, the lack of discipline and preparedness forced caravan hunters to shorten travel distances during raids to avoid fatigue, such as from a helicopter 1Km landing distance to a 200 meter one.

Marchenko states that, at best, only through the rear of a caravan would special forces be able to conduct reconnaissance, collect intelligence and confiscate material. The units intended to fill the vacuum of unconventional warfare lacked the basic abilities of Spetsnaz units. The heads of special intelligence allegedly avoided setting difficult tasks due to the quality of the units. Despite the low quality of the direction and orders, it is likely that the unconventional caravan hunters did not have the knowledge to achieve the strategic purpose of the mission.

The Caravan Hunters or The Caravan cowboys?

The poor training led to a missing component when hunting caravans. The lacking unconventional skills made the definition of caravan hunters literal. Teams of helicopters commonly identified and inspected a caravan. After inspection, the caravan would commonly be torched and caravaneers killed. With the intelligence component completely abandoned, the Spetsnaz hunters meanwhile literally played a cat and mouse game with caravans supplying the mujahideen. It was tactical considerations, and not strategic decisions, that run the hunters on a day-to-day basis. Groups of 10-25 personnel moved to intercept caravans with little objective further than destroying any weapons intended for rebels.

Tactical intelligence or a few exceptions?

Intelligence, or in its place information of low reliability, became the orchestra director of the caravan war. The caravan hunters worked using the 1K18 Sensor that picked up signals of movement. Meanwhile, human sources transmitted intelligence to the detachment regarding caravans and routes. A detachment in the 22nd brigade allegedly controlled a Baloch, who in exchange for intelligence, obtained access to a portion of the intercepted caravans of his choice. Nevertheless, it is likely that the sensors and Baloch informants are exceptions. Intelligence from Kalat, where the GRU intelligence directorate was located, almost never provided accurate information. As an example, the largest caravan seized with more than 200 camels was found by accident, therefore intelligence played little-to-no role.

Bad organisation leading the orchestra

In practice, the special forces detachments enjoyed half-freedom on the front-line to hunt down the caravans. ‘Ekran’, the task force created to oversee the Caravan War, failed to monitor the operation. The task force lacked the logistics to run aerial and reconnaissance operations continuously. Ekran, to a certain extent, was driving the cowboy nature of caravan hunters. Ultimately, Ekran acted like a hedge fund that caravan hunters used to financially and materially support the targeting of caravans.

Caravan hunters: Aftermath of a raid

A poor track record

The poor strategy employed brought occasional successful operations along with a majority of defeats for the caravan hunters. Between 1984 to 1988, 554 detachment members from the 15th special brigade died in attacks and ambushes while hunting caravans. As caravans traveled along routes, mujahideen sometimes escorted the materials and ambushed special forces, mostly unprepared for unconventional scenarios.

Due to the bad organisation of the detachments and a superficial clandestine cover, the hunters also lacked cooperative capabilities. In 1988, during the exit of forces, the 177th detachment in Ghazni mined a field separate from the knowledge of soviet forces. A Soviet vehicle, after insurgents attacked the fleeing forces, ended trapped in the minefield. Ultimately, all of the sappers sent died, along with the commander. In an attack on the GRU directorate in Kalat by insurgents, caravan hunters abandoned a scout who would later die after forgetting to wake him up.

Confidential

Wagner in CAR: Russia’s ‘Non-State State Actor’ Part VI

Wagner in CAR

Wagner in CAR is an essential weapon in the hybrid warfare arsenal of the Kremlin. By utilizing Wagner and other private military companies (PMCs), the Russian state enforces its existing spheres of influence.With a focus not only on existing spheres such as former Soviet states like Ukraine and Belarus but also on new opportunities further afield in Africa, like the Central African Republic (CAR).

Timeline of Russian influence in the Central African Republic

  • The CAR government grew impatient with the UN arms embargo imposed on the nation since 2013.
  • Struggling against an insurgency from the Séléka coalition and anti-balaka militias, the CAR called for assistance in military equipment coinciding with a French material and political withdrawal. 
  • In 2017, CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The nature of the meeting was to request assistance to bolster the CAR army against the rebels. 
  • Russia secured an exemption from the embargo in December 2017, ships Russian-made arms and Russian PMCs (Private Military Contractors) in 2018. 

France Withdraws

French soldiers were once very active in CAR affairs. Operation Sangaris in 2013 was an attempt by French forces to stabilise the civil war. Civilian deaths and scandals marred the campaign. Following the operation, France made the decision to withdraw from CAR, despite once having a strategic interest in the natural resource potential in the country. French state-owned nuclear giant Areva purchased uranium mining rights for $2.5 billion in 2007. However, in 2012 it proved to be a poor choice when uranium levels were significantly lower than estimated.

French Soldiers in Bangui 2013. Source: Idriss Fall VOA

The CAR government repeatedly requested military aid to fight the rebels, which was met by timid assistance from the French, in the form of poorly maintained Chinese and Pakistani AK-47s. These small arms were confiscated from the terror group Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Disappointed, the CAR government was forced to deal with the Russians for proper equipment and support.

Wagner and Co. 

It is important to remember that the Wagner Group is just one cog in a growing Russian PMC machine; a machine providing military instructors, security advisors, and armed guards for VIPs, facilities, and mines. This includes protecting construction materials transported from Sudan, another African country with a Russian PMC presence. Wagner operators frequently arrive with the weapons sent to the CAR, under the context of “military instructors.” 

While PMCs are technically ‘illegal’ in Russia, giving it relative obscurity, and allowing them to operate under the umbrella of plausible state deniability. Consequently, when the UN agreed to let Russia provide military advisors to CAR, the UN expected official Russian military personnel; PMCs were not in the equation. This PMC loophole utilized in regions of interest provided plausible deniability to the Russian government, which was advantageous when reports of ‘heavy-handed’ tactics from military and law enforcement officials trained by Russian PMCs came to light. 

Wagner in CAR

Russian SOF or Wagner? Source: @AbraxasSpa on Twitter

 

Sewa Security Services

Sewa Security Services is a Russian PMC that provide close protection for the CAR’s President Touadéra, while the UN was told that the ‘instructors’ were present for training exercises. Sewa exists as a subsidiary of Lobaye Invest, owned by, unsurprisingly, Yevgeny Prigozhin, aka “Putin’s Chef.” Prigozhin is also the owner of the Wagner Group. 

In January 2018, Russian weapons and PMCs–Wagner landed in CAR, in June/July mining permits in the Yawa and Pama region were awarded to Lobaye Invest. Prigozhin is a close ally to Russian President Putin, using private companies to extend Russian influence. Prigozhin is also the orchestrator of the now-notorious Internet Research Agency; a troll farm in St. Petersburg and the artillery of Russian disinformation campaigns

In 2020, CNN investigations discovered Russian troll farms in Ghana and Nigeria, outsourcing disinformation campaigns, and thus increasing plausible deniability. The extension of Russian influence does not only exist through the private military company Wagner Group. Companies such as Lobaye Invest also acted as the financier of a Russian radio station, soccer tournaments and beauty contest in CAR, solidifying ties.

Wagner in CAR

Sewa Security members guarding President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. Source: CAR Government

Military Instructors

Beyond instructor functions, Wagner PMCs are present with the CAR armed forces to ensure “weapons are handled properly.” In real terms, Russian PMCs serving alongside CAR assets are now in essence active personnel ready for engagement if the need arises. This designation expands to securing mineral extraction projects, a keen interest of Russians. These extraction projects usually occur in disputed territory with a heavy rebel presence.

Three Russian journalists investigating the PMC presence in non-government control areas were ambushed and killed in July 2018. UN observers report that Russian PMCs are operating checkpoints and joint patrols with CAR forces. The Russian PMC machine in CAR is well and truly active, but with numbers undisclosed, the size of the PMC force is unclear. 

Russian trained SAOS-GSPR (Section d’Appui aux Opérations Spéciale – Groupement Spécial Chargé de la Protection Républicaine) with a Spetsnaz patch

Hand in Hand

As a German Foreign Ministry Report stated, Africa, is Russia’s top geopolitical priority. CAR, also being one of Russia’s closest allies on the African continent, is set to be one of the six military bases to be established by Russia on the continent. The integration of PMCs, if successful, will provide the necessary stability to extend Russian soft power with vital UN votes, a flow of natural resources, and a growing market for Russian arms exports. 


10 BRDM-2 armoured personnel carriers gifted by Russia. Source: CAR Government

 The Inside Man

If the evidence of Russian state interest was in question, President Faustin Toudéra’s national security advisor is none other than Valery Zakharov, a former GRU intelligence officer. Zakharov’s appointment was facilitated by Yevgeny Prigozhin, furthering the Russian state and private business entanglements in the CAR.

Wagner in CAR

Colonel Konstantin Pikalov aka “Mazay” aka “The Colonel”. Source: Bellingcat

The Colonel

Colonel Konstantin Pikalov, aka “Mazay,” aka “The Colonel” under the guise of personal security, is influencing the direction of Russia’s Africa strategy, with Zakharov reportedly following his recommendations. Mazay was once a Russian military career officer, fighting in two Chechen wars, and involved with the PMC Slavonic Corps in Libya. Mazay is reportedly overseeing military issues in Africa through the “Convoy” Military Security Company, a Russian legal entity based in St. Petersburg. Mazay is serving as a liaison between the PMC military/political consultants and the Russian Ministry of Defense. This was highlighted by Bellingcat, which revealed email correspondence of Russian military instructions reaching Mazay in CAR. 

What’s Next?

Last week the Russian Ministry of Defense announced it is sending 300 soldiers to the CAR to avoid a Coup attempt, according to insiders. This fits in the narrative of Wagner and Russian regulars being deployed to support leaders that curry favour with the Kremlin. President Touadéra has already proven to be a loyal ally and has fully embraced Russian influence. If this Russian influence is better than France or the UN will be determined soon enough.

This article first appeared on Sandboxx News 

Wagner: Russia’s ‘Non-State State Actor’ Part IV

 

Wagner: Russia’s ‘Non-State State Actor’ Part IV
Wagner mercenaries at an undisclosed location. Picture released by the Ukrainian security service (SBU)

 

Libya had amassed a debt of no less than $4.6 billion to Russia by 2008, largely stemming from the Soviet era. President Putin travelled to Libya and met Gaddafi in ’08 and wrote off the entire debt. In return, Russia’s state-owned Russian Railways earned a $3.48 billion contract to build railroads connecting Sirte and Benghazi. Arms deals were signed – in 2010 these deals made up 12% of Russia’s total arms export valued at $10 billion in total.

 

Additionally, Russia’s favourite son, Gazprom, struck deals with Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) to form a joint project to explore hydrocarbons in the region. Gazprom also holds stakes in the Elephant field after striking a deal with Italian ENI. All deals were signed at the time of Libya’s construction boom in 2008 when Gaddafi was to invest $52 billion in infrastructure projects – projects that Russia had a great interest in.

 

Instead of becoming an international financial hub for the region with skyscrapers shooting up in the sky, Libya was shot up and sent into a spiral of violence. As Libya’s spiral of violence seems to move towards an end, Russia has come to reinvest and revive frozen contracts. And as we now know, on the African continent – Where there are conflict and natural resources, there is Wagner.

 

 

Prigozhin’s Dinner

 

In Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and the CAR Wagner’s presence is rather well documented by pictures, flight manifestos, videos, and witnesses while mining and security companies can be traced back through the hierarchy of companies eventually leading up to Prigozhin at the top. These operations function as some dysfunctional covert operation that is quite overt, yet provides plausible deniability simply because the link between Moscow and Wagner is not on paper in black-and-white while the private-public dynamic blurs Moscow’s involvement just enough to pull another ‘Salisbury’ – Not referring to the actual poisoning, but to Moscow’s standardised reaction when caught with their pants down; ‘anti-Russian hysteria‘, ‘cheap soap opera’ or notions of similar nature. Libya is quite different, hard evidence is scarce, but indicators and motivation are evident.

 

In Libya, there are several possible outcomes of the conflict and now planned election, and Russia is hedging. Moscow has hosted several Libyan politicians with conflicting interests and partners, most recent with Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. But Russia’s number one in Libya is Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar. Haftar made a visit to Moscow on 7 November 2018, to meet with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

 

The two have met several times since 2017 when they met aboard the aircraft carrier ‘Admiral Kuznetsov’ just off the coast of Libya. Russia did not announce the meeting and seemingly attempted to keep it a secret. Libya’s National Army (LNA) did apparently not receive that memo as they recorded and published Haftar’s arrival and meeting for propaganda purposes. Upon his arrival, the video shows the appearance of no other than Prigozhin.

 

When later confronted with the video Russian officials dismissed the observation, claiming Prigozhin was there to cater and organize a dinner. However, the recordings show Prigozhin in the meeting with a translation earpiece and nametag, evidently being an equal participant, while Russian media found that Shoigu had left for Kazakhstan before any dinner had taken place.

 

 

On the Ground

 

Some reports have claimed that regular Russian army, GRU operators and Spetsnaz has been on the ground in Libya. This claim contradicts the Kremlin’s current modus operandi (MO). Other reports claim that GRU operators and Spetsnaz forces are on the ground, under the banner of Wagner, technically making them Wagner personnel. These reports are far more viable as it gives Russia the opportunity to deny – which they do.

 

Meanwhile, we already know that Wagner’s base is shared with GRU and Spetsnaz in Molkino, sending personnel from there to act as agents of the state abroad does not make sense when they can be sent under the cover of Wagner, clearing the Kremlin from any responsibility in case of any unseen problems while concealing their role and intent. Additionally, Putin’s greatest threat is internal opposition and a dead agent of the Russian state overseas could raise eyebrows, a dead private mercenary will not. Wagner is a (close to) risk-free solution to the execution of foreign policy.

 

Haftar has received military support from Russia since February 2017 when oil terminals in eastern Libya were attacked. The Russian forces, assumed to be elite personnel under Wagner, landed in Mersa Matruh in western Egypt, later observed further west towards the Libyan border in Sidi Barrani with drone equipment. The Russian deployment was confirmed by Egyptian security sources who added that six units from Russia had been flown into Egypt before departing for Libya 10 days later.

 

Additionally, numerous reports claim that Russia has moved weapons to Haftar through Egypt and that Wagner personnel has trained LNA personnel using the equipment and maintenance of it. It should be noted that state-owned Rosneft, Russia’s second favourite son, signed a deal with NOC, also in February 2017. A source within the Russian Defence Ministry has also confirmed the presence, stating that both civilian and military instructors are in Libya.

 

In late 2018, around the same time as Haftar’s meeting in Moscow, Ukrainian intelligence released flight manifestos establishing that the same airline unit taking Wagner personnel to Sudan that is mentioned in part 2 of this series, started transiting through Benghazi – Indicating that Libya is an area Wagner personnel are rotating into.

 

 

The Libyan Scheme

 

Some observers believe Russia’s interest in Libya lies in controlling the migration flow into Europe to pressure the West. This is unlikely. Based on Russia’s policy in Africa, Russia has identified Haftar as who they want to be in power. Then upgraded his army’s equipment, sent Wagner personnel for support, training and maintenance of equipment, and are likely to strike deals that give access to natural resources.

 

In these deals, Wagner personnel is likely to be scrambled to secure the centralized power and sites of investments either by force or in a consultancy role alongside local militia. Russia’s interest in Libya is oil and gas for economic gains and to reinforce its strategy of energy diplomacy, along with its desire to revive pre-civil war contracts in arms and infrastructure. Wagner will play a role in the physical security of these futures contracts, whether it be securing oil fields, pipelines, or the construction of railways, and it can only be expected that subsidiary companies of Prigozhin, similar to Evro Polis in Syria, show up in Libya alongside Wagner personnel.

 

 

This article was first published on 23-08-2019

 

Image: Image: VK (link)

 

Confidential

Wagner in Africa: Russia’s Non-State State Actor’ Part I

Wagner in Africa
Russian Soldiers from the KSSO/SSO In Syria. Source: Russian MOD

This is the first of a series of articles concerning the Russian security company, Wagner in Africa. In 2013, an advertisement for security jobs started appearing on Russian websites with a military content. The advertisement promised $5,000 a month for going to Syria to do guard duty on military bases and energy infrastructure for a company named the Slavonic Corps. Slavonic Corps was registered in Hong Kong by senior managers at the Moran Security Group, which was run by Russian military veterans. The Slavonic Corps sought contracts to provide energy security in Syria, and their first mission to Syria took place in 2013.

When the group arrived in Syria, however, they learned that not everything was what it seemed. They had been told they were there on contract by the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, cleared by the Federal Security Services (FSB) agency, to protect Syrian oil assets and would be given the tools to do so. Upon arrival, they were given outdated equipment, learned that the mission was to recapture areas rich in oil and that the contract was for individuals, not the Syrian government. The mission went awry and some of the Russian mercenaries credited their escape from the superior jihadists to a sandstorm. The mercenaries were sent back to Russia within a month, ending the original five-month contract.

State or Private?

One of the returning mercenaries was Dmitriy Valeryevich Utkin. Utkin, originally from Ukraine, is a former brigade commander of a unit in Spetsnaz GRU. A special forces unit controlled by Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) based in Molkino, in Krasnodar Krai. Utkin had retired from service in 2013, then joined Moran Security Group. Two other returning mercenaries of the Slavonic Corps were arrested by FSB after landing in Moscow.

The two have later declared that they were recruited by Vyacheslav Kalashnikov, a lieutenant colonel of the FSB reserves, and president of Moran Security Group. Meanwhile, Vadim Gusev, a deputy director of Moran, is one of the names who registered the Slavonic Corps in Hong Kong and happens to own all 10,000 shares of the company. Moran Security Group has earlier been linked to and seized for accusations of involvement in the illegal arms trade, as well as providing rogue nuclear technology for Qaddafi’s courier service. Despite the ties with FSB and possibly facilitation of weapons trade, it is unknown if the Russian state or security apparatus have any involvement with the company.

A few months after in 2014, Utkin resurfaced in Luhansk Oblast in Eastern Ukraine, fighting for a new company, Группа Вагнера – Wagner Group. Utkin is, allegedly, a Nazi sympathizer and it is assumed that the name Wagner stems from Hitler’s favourite composer, Richard Wagner. In 2016, Utkin attended an event organised by the Kremlin marking the Day of Heroes of the Fatherland, an event attended by military and civilians who have demonstrated courage and heroism in service to Russia. This is believed to be one of the key links between Utkin and the Kremlin. Additionally, Wagner mercenaries have received medals awarded by the state, typically given to soldiers fighting with the Russian insignia. They train and live with GRU soldiers, and they have been flown to and from Syria on Russian military planes.

Another alleged head of Wagner is reported to be Yevgeny Prigozhin, also known as Putin’s Chef. Prigozhin has made a fortune running a catering company, yet reports are starting to surface that he is Putin’s main man to do the dirty work. Prigozhin owns a company called Evro-Polis who made a deal with Syria’s state-owned oil company that it would receive 25% of oil revenues from recaptured territories. He owns the Internet Research Agency, better known as the Troll Factory, accused of meddling in the US 2016 elections. He has also been accused of orchestrating assassinations among political opposition individuals. Additionally, American intelligence claim they have recordings of Prigozhin and Syrian officials which has led them to conclude that Prigozhin ‘almost certainly’ controls Wagner in Africa and Syria.

Mobilising in Africa

Wagner is an unregistered paramilitary company, which is illegal by Russian law. It has access to army resources, and Putin has in interviews stated that they are, as a company, free to operate in any corner of the world. It has strong ties to the Russian security apparatus and to Prigozhin, and Prigozhin and the Russian security apparatus have close ties with Putin. Today, we see Wagner operating in several corners of the world – Syria, Ukraine, Sudan, C.A.R, and most recently in Venezuela. Wagner can be seen as an extension of Russian foreign policy, a state agency operating without the limitations and oversight of a state agency. Russia through Wagner is heavily involved on the African continent, which raises the concern, what is Russia seeking in Africa, and is Wagner the mean deployed to achieve its foreign policy ambitions?

Wagner in Africa

Map displays Russia activities in Africa and Wagner in Africa

Image: RUSVESNA (link)

This article was first published on 11-01-2019