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Are Prigozhin, the Wagner Group, its Chief of Operations Utkin, (closely associated with the GRU), and the Russian Mob – TOC (closely associated with the Russian prisons) hypothetically behind the mass shootings in the US and the Covid pandemic, started in China via the biolabs in Africa, possibly inherited from the Nazi Germany? And are they also responsible for the multitude of other similar phenomena which we call the “global terrorism”?

Are Prigozhin, the Wagner Group, its Chief of Operations Utkin, (closely associated with the GRU), and the Russian Mob – TOC (closely associated with the Russian prisons) hypothetically behind the mass shootings in the US and the Covid pandemic, started in China via the biolabs in Africa, possibly inherited from the Nazi Germany? And are they also responsible for the multitude of other similar phenomena which we call the “global terrorism”? 

Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin is shown prior to a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, July 4, 2017. The fighting for Soledar and Bakhmut again highlighted a bitter rift between the top military brass and Yevgeny Prigozhin, a rogue millionaire whose Wagner Group military contractor has played an increasing role in Ukraine.

Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin is shown prior to a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Kremlin on July 4, 2017. (Sergei Ilnitsky/The Associated Press) 

Mr. Putin – #Putin: What about the devout Nazis in your own midst, among your own people? The #WagnerGroup which you allowed to flourish, is a good example.

Quote: «Чем кумушек (Ukraine and Zelensky) считать трудиться, Не лучше ль на себя, кума, оборотиться?»

#FBI FBI #CIA CIA #DOJ DOJ #Russia Russia

The U.S. Treasury Department this week designated the Wagner Group a significant transnational criminal organization — part of an effort to crack down on an entity responsible for a growing number of atrocities in Ukraine.

The Wagner Group — a private military company owned by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin — first took to the battlefield during the Russian annexation of Crimea. But its operations have expanded considerably in the years since. Wagner fighters have appeared in conflict zones from Syria to Mali to Ukraine, and are notorious for the brutality of their tactics.

Canada doesn’t have a designation equivalent to Treasury’s “transnational criminal organization” tag, although the Department of Public Safety says the Wagner Group and Prigozhin are under Canadian sanctions. But critics say the federal government needs to do more to rein in an increasingly dangerous organization. 

What is the Wagner Group?

Russian special forces commander Dmitry Utkin is believed to have founded the Wagner Group in 2014.

“Commander Dmitry Utkin, who is a neo-Nazi, named the group after Hitler’s favourite composer, the German composer Wagner,” said Molly Dunigan, senior political scientist at the RAND corporation, an American global policy think tank.

“The culture of the group historically has just been so brutal and really no-holds-barred, in terms of brutality against civilians in the population in which they operate.”

The group initially hired elite-level fighters to operate in Crimea. But the organization has evolved in different ways over the years — especially during the current conflict in Ukraine.

“Over time, Wagner has spread its wings, so to speak,” said Christopher Spearin, professor of defence studies at the Canadian Forces College and Royal Military College of Canada. “It had a presence in Syria and was most likely the largest Russian ground force there. More recently, it’s had a presence in Africa.”

This undated photograph handed out by French military shows Russian mercenaries boarding a helicopter in northern Mali. Russia's Wagner Group, a private military company led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a rogue millionaire with longtime links to Russia's President Vladimir Putin, has played a key role in the fighting in Ukraine and also has deployed its personnel to Syria, Central African Republic, Libya and Mali.

This undated photograph handed out by French military shows Russian mercenaries boarding a helicopter in northern Mali. (French Army via The Associated Press)

Wagner fighters have been hired to fight insurgencies, protect government leaders and defend mining, timber and other resource extraction operations, he said. 

“Wagner charges money for their mercenary activities. They get paid a significant amount of money … that’s one way that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and other oligarchs can enrich themselves,” said Jessica Davis, president of Insight Threat Intelligence.

By working in resource-rich African countries, the Wagner Group helps Russia gain access to both resources and money — at a time when the country faces significant economic hurdles due to worldwide sanctions.

“The Wagner Group really fills a number of Russian foreign policy objectives,” Davis said. “They use (African) resources for Russia to shore up its currency, particularly in the face of sanctions. But also to control and gain access to resources.”

Why is Wagner in Ukraine? 

Experts say it’s difficult to determine exactly how many Wagner people are on the ground in Ukraine, although most estimate the operation likely involves tens of thousands of fighters.

The scope of this operation means it can’t function with special forces fighters alone. Wagner is now known for hiring men with limited military training and recruiting straight from the Russian prison system.

“There was a desire to increase the number of Russian personnel on the battlefield, but to do so in a way that did not go beyond the partial mobilization that occurred in Russia (in September 2022),” Spearin said. “And an easy pool of individuals to harvest — for lack of a better term — was Russian convicts.”

WATCH | The Wagner Group is led by a Putin-connected ex-con:

Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin? CBC’s David Common investigates what’s known about the man leading the Wagner Group — Russia’s private mercenaries waging a bloody battle in Bakhmut, Ukraine.

The different tiers of fighters have contributed to Russia’s battlefield strategies, with more elite troops being held in reserve and novice troops being sent into especially dangerous operations, Dunigan said.

“Analysts refer to these people frequently as the cannon fodder line for Wagner forces,” she said.

“They would send them out and run really risky operations, something that the U.S. or its allies would never do with their military forces because they were so risky and would cause extensive casualties.”

Is Wagner like other private military companies?

Private military forces have been a presence on battlefields for centuries. Companies like Blackwater were hired by the U.S. State Department to fight in Iraq (a group of Blackwater employees killed 17 civilians in an attack in Nisour Square in 2007) and other private military companies continue to operate today.

But analysts say the Wagner Group is different in terms of the massive size of its fighting force and its work on the front lines, in offensive operations. According to Dunigan, Wagner’s close ties to the Russian army also make it a distinct, paramilitary operation. 

“This has always been somewhat of a very tightly tied paramilitary force and that is something that is really, really unique here,” Dunigan said. “They train alongside the Russian military. There is a big Wagner training base a stone’s throw away from a Russian army training base.”

Prigozhin, the Russian oligarch who owns Wagner, is part of Putin’s inner circle, Dunigan said. This also makes Wagner different from other private military companies — which don’t have overt ties to political parties or figures.

Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin is shown prior to a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, July 4, 2017. The fighting for Soledar and Bakhmut again highlighted a bitter rift between the top military brass and Yevgeny Prigozhin, a rogue millionaire whose Wagner Group military contractor has played an increasing role in Ukraine.

Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin is shown prior to a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Kremlin on July 4, 2017. (Sergei Ilnitsky/The Associated Press)

There are widespread reports of brutality, torture and extrajudicial killings by Wagner fighters.

“What they’re really known for, frankly, at this point, is atrocities,” said Davis. “They’ve committed a number of atrocities in the Central African Republic in 2018 and 2021, and more recently in Mali.

“So while they are a private military corporation or a mercenary group, they’re really, at this point, known for killing civilians and committing atrocities and war crimes.”

“Studies have been conducted which show that perhaps not only is the Wagner Group committing atrocities themselves, but also their mere presence seems to be augmenting the amount of criminal violence that’s launched by national military groups, whether they be from the Central African Republic or Mali,” Spearin said.

Academics like Jason Blazakis warn the presence of the Wagner Group and other private military actors will lead to more proxy wars and less accountability.

“We can hold governments accountable in any number of UN-related conventions for war crimes,” said Blazakis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies who studies terrorist financing and violent extremism.

“The increasing use of private military companies or transnational actors like the Wagner Group, who are engaged in acts of terrorism, really makes me worry that we’re going back to a time period much akin to the Cold War where we saw states fight one another [through] proxies.”

What can governments do? 

Blazakis said he thinks the U.S. Treasury Department designation won’t have a significant impact.

“I think it has important symbolic value, but the effects will be very limited because the organization has already been sanctioned [through] multiple executive orders in the past,” he said.

He said he thinks governments in the United States and Canada should list the Wagner Group as a terrorist organization.

“Adding the terrorism label to the Wagner Group is going to give countries that are doing business with them second thoughts about continuing doing business,” he said.

“But even perhaps more importantly, it may deter countries that are thinking about doing business with the Wagner Group. Because who wants to work with a terrorist group, especially one that’s sanctioned by multiple governments?”

Spearin said Canada also could do more to codify and regulate the private military industry, which could spur other countries to do the same.

CIA Director William Burns called the short-lived Russian mercenary rebellion “a vivid reminder of the corrosive effect” of Putin’s regime. Burns is pictured testifying at a House Select Committee on Intelligence annual open hearing at the U.S. Capitol in March.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

CIA Director William Burns said that the repercussions of the recent aborted revolt in Russia led by Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin won’t blow over any time soon and offer a reminder of the damage President Putin’s regime has inflicted on Russia.

“It is striking that Prigozhin preceded his actions with a scathing indictment of the Kremlin’s mendacious rationale for its invasion of Ukraine, and of the Russian military leadership’s conduct of the war,” Burns said on Saturday in a speech delivered at the Ditchley Foundation in Oxfordshire, England. “The impact of those words and those actions will play out for some time, a vivid reminder of the corrosive effect of Putin’s war on his own society and his own regime.”

The intelligence official’s remarks come a week after Wagner paramilitary forces launched a march toward Moscow in protest over Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s alleged plan to eliminate the mercenary group and fold its fighters into Russia’s military. The Wagner forces briefly seized control of the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and made it to the capital city’s outer limits before calling off the mutiny. In an apparent deal with the help of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, the Kremlin said the Wagner chief wouldn’t be charged for his actions and would relocate to Belarus.

In the months leading up to his mutiny, Prigozhin — once a close confidant of Putin — had been ramping up his public critique of Russia’s military, accusing senior leadership of incompetence.

Burns cast Prigozhin’s revolt as “an armed challenge to the Russian state.”

Reiterating President Biden’s assertion that the U.S. and its allies played no part in the uprising, Burns said the U.S. “has had and will have no part” in what it says is an internal Russian affair.

Burns called Russia’s war on Ukraine a “strategic failure for Russia — its military weaknesses laid bare,” while NATO forces have “grown bigger and stronger,” he said.

Burns, the U.S. ambassador to Russia between 2005 to 2008, has watched Putin closely for years. After the CIA came to believe Russia was planning a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Burns met with Putin in late 2021. The visit left him discouraged and convinced that the Russian leader was leaning toward an attack on Ukraine.

The moment of “disaffection” with Putin’s war, Burns said in his remarks Saturday, gives the CIA a rare opportunity to recruit Russian intelligence sources.

“We’re very much open for business,” Burns said, noting that the agency recently posted on the messaging platform Telegram “to let brave Russians know how to contact us safely on the dark web.”


Why did the second plane of Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin head for Azerbaijani capital Baku, ask Azerbaijani media.

One of Prigozhin’s Embraer ERJ-135bj Legacy 650 planes went to Baku on Thursday. This is evidenced by flight tracking service Flightradar, according to which, this plane left Moscow at 3:30pm and landed in Baku at 7:04pm.

Russian sources claim that this is one of the two planes that belonged to Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died in a plane crash on Wednesday.

After Prigozhin’s plane crashed, the second plane returned to Moscow, but then left for Baku the next day.

There is no information about the passengers of this plane that went to the Azerbaijani capital, the media report.


This text available in   Հայերեն and Русский



Why did the second plane of Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin head for Azerbaijani capital Baku, ask Azerbaijani media.

One of Prigozhin’s Embraer ERJ-135bj Legacy 650 planes went to Baku on Thursday. This is evidenced by flight tracking service Flightradar, according to which, this plane left Moscow at 3:30pm and landed in Baku at 7:04pm.

Russian sources claim that this is one of the two planes that belonged to Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died in a plane crash on Wednesday.

After Prigozhin’s plane crashed, the second plane returned to Moscow, but then left for Baku the next day.

There is no information about the passengers of this plane that went to the Azerbaijani capital, the media report.


This text available in   Հայերեն and Русский


The U.S. will designate the Russian mercenary Wagner Group as a “significant transnational criminal organization” and impose further sanctions against the organization and its support network next week, the White House said Friday. 

“These actions recognize the transcontinental threat that Wagner poses, including through its ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Friday. 

The U.S. “will work relentlessly to identify, disrupt, expose, and target those who are assisting Wagner,” said Kirby, which he accused of “committing widespread atrocities and human rights abuses.” 

Kirby also said that the White House would release declassified images of Russian railcars receiving shipments from North Korea in November. He said the U.S. believes it was a delivery of infantry rockets and missiles for use by the Wagner Group. 

Kirby said the U.S. did not believe the amount of material delivered to Wagner would change the battlefield dynamics in Ukraine. “We do expect that it will continue to receive North Korean weapons systems,” he said.

He added that the arms transfers defied United Nations Security Council resolutions. 

In December, the Biden administration designated Wagner a military end user, which makes it more difficult for it to buy equipment that is based on U.S. technology or production. 

The Wagner Group is headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The millionaire former restaurateur earned the nickname “Putin’s chef” for catering state events. 

Yevgeny Prigozhin at the funeral of Wagner group fighter Dmitry Menshikov, who died during fighting in Ukraine, at a cemetery is St. Petersburg, Russia, on Dec. 24, 2022.Yevgeny Prigozhin at the funeral of Wagner group fighter Dmitry Menshikov, in St. Petersburg, Russia, last month.Aleksey Smagin / Sipa USA via AP file

The group has provided assistance to the Russian military during conflicts in Syria and Libya, and has recruited former prisoners as soldiers for hire in Russia’s war on Ukraine, promising bounties and pardons in exchange for service. 

Despite longstanding ties to the Kremlin, Prigozhin has recently been at odds with the Russian military, which he accused of “constantly trying to steal Wagner’s victory” last week after the country’s Defense Ministry claimed a military victory in Soledar without crediting his company.

In the news conference Friday, Kirby said intelligence showed divisions between the mercenary group and Moscow had widened, even as Putin increasingly turned to the organization for critical support. 

“Wagner is becoming a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries,” Kirby said, adding that Prigozhin was trying to advance his personal interests in Ukraine and that the Wagner group “is making military decisions largely — largely — on what they will generate for Prigozhin, in terms of positive publicity.” 

Kirby estimated that Wagner mercenaries currently fighting in Ukraine consisted of 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts.

When Reuters asked Prigozhin about the new U.S. designation, he said Wagner “and Americans are colleagues. From now on, our relationship can be called “a battle of criminal clans.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry has not commented on the video.

The assessment came after a former member of Wagner claimed asylum in Norway last week.

In a video released Monday, Andrei Medvedev said he had formerly commanded a squad of paramilitary forces in eastern Ukraine where he witnessed the abuse and execution of former prisoners who refused to fight. He said his own contract was forcibly extended.

He said the group “stopped considering us as people and began to practically treat us like cannon fodder” and worried that Wagner was pursuing him and that he was “in danger of death.”

He added he had escaped border patrol dogs and guards’ bullets at the Russian border and ran through a forest and over an icy lake to escape into Norway.

The Wagner Group did not comment on his allegations.


The Wagner Group, Russia’s notorious private military company accused of war crimes and identified as a “significant transnational criminal organization” by the U.S. Treasury Department, may be trying to recruit American veterans as mercenaries.

A video being shared on social media is purportedly a Wagner recruiting commercial that targets U.S. military veterans. However, it is unclear whether the video was produced by Wagner or someone else.

Set to a pulse-pounding techno soundtrack, the video features ample B-roll footage of U.S. service members training and fighting, especially Marines. In fact, it appears that whoever made the video lifted footage directly from the Marine Corps’ 2012 recruiting commercial “Toward the Sound of Chaos.”

A narrator with a thick Russian accent appeals to veterans who joined the military because they “dreamed of doing much to make America great again,” only to be disillusioned by witnessing countries destroyed and civilians killed.

After sprinkling some news footage of the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot, the video uses a scene from the 2000 Mel Gibson movie The Patriot as the narrator explains how the United States is no longer the country its Founding Fathers dreamed of. Instead, it has become “the focus of the evil that is destroying the whole world.”

Next comes a shot of Nazis with torches marching in the shape of a swastika juxtaposed with the flag of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, which has been linked to neo-Nazis, as the narrator says the only country fighting this evil is — wait for it — Russia.

The narrator then urges any American who is a “true patriot” to “join the ranks of the warriors of Russia,” as the video shows the badge that Wagner mercenaries wear along with the company’s owner Yevgeny Prigozhin.

The video closes by warning it may eventually be too late to defeat evil as it shows a scene from the movie Terminator 2: Judgement Day, in which a nuclear explosion destroys Los Angeles.

U.S. government officials had little to say when Task & Purpose asked if Wagner is trying to recruit American veterans.

“We are aware of the video but don’t have anything additional to offer at this time,” said Marine Lt. Col. Garron Garn, a Pentagon spokesman.

Garn referred further questions on the matter to the State Department, which has sanctioned people and entities linked to Wagner and Prigozhin. But neither the State Department nor the National Security Council provided any comment for this story.

Experts told Task & Purpose that the video looked like something Wagner would produce, but they have not seen it posted on any websites or social media accounts owned or linked to the private military company.

“I do not know if it is 100% authentic – in a sense that it was created by Wagner – or not,” said Sergey Sukhankin, a senior fellow with the Jamestown Foundation think tank in Washington, D.C., who has conducted research into Russian private military companies. “But given Prigozhin’s prior involvement in cyber operations I would not rule it out.”

Prigozhin is one of 13 Russians who were indicted by a grand jury in February 2018 for allegedly spreading disinformation in the United States during the 2016 presidential election. Prosecutors initially claimed that Prigozhin’s company, Concord Management and Consulting, had funded a Russian troll factory.

But in March 2020, the Justice Department abruptly dropped its prosecution of the company, in part because Concord Management and Consulting had failed to comply with subpoenas and Prigozhin had provided prosecutors with a “misleading, at best” affidavit, the Washington Post reported at the time.

Jason Blazakis, of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said he believes it is highly likely that either Wagner or an associate of the company produced the video that targets American military veterans.

“The video is fitting with the high-end productions the group has produced in the past; it is also a propaganda piece aimed at American audiences – and we know that this is a common Prigozhin tactic dating back to the 2016 elections,” said Blazakis, director of the institute’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism.

One reason why Wagner may be trying to recruit American veterans is that they could be running low on people, said Molly Dunigan, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation.

Up to 50,000 Wagner mercenaries may be fighting in Ukraine right now, Dunigan told Task & Purpose. That’s a major increase from past conflicts. At most, Wagner had around 5,000 mercenaries in Syria at one time.

While Wagner was able to recruit Ukrainians, Moldavians, and Serbians, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, people from those countries have been less likely to join the company since the war started, she said.

“They are recruiting extensively and haphazardly across the Russian population,” Dunigan said. “You see these reports of them recruiting amongst the prisons there. Eventually, they are going to run out of people.”

U.S. intelligence officials believe Wagner has recruited 40,000 prisoners to fight in Ukraine. A video posted in September shows a man who looks like Prigozhin telling a group of prisoners that Wagner is careful about allowing prisoners convicted of sex crimes to join the company, but he added that Wagner understands that “mistakes happen.”

Wagner initially recruited special operators from the Russian military and intelligence services, Dunigan said. Now, they treat prisoners and other recruits as cannon fodder and promise a brutal death for anyone who tries to desert.

In November, a video emerged showing Wagner killing a former member of the group by hitting the man in the head with a sledgehammer.

“This has several implications if they are trying to recruit U.S. veterans,” Dunigan said. “The first is: What are the veterans’ backgrounds? If they have any sort of Special Forces training, they might actually be able to essentially learn and steal U.S. Special Forces operational art from them, and they certainly would probably treat them like cannon fodder.”

“But, if they are pulling down U.S. veterans who are less skilled,” Dunigan continued, “I would not be surprised if they are treated like cannon fodder as well.”

However, the video may have been produced by the FSB, Russia’s domestic security agency, which has become very concerned about Prigozhin’s growing influence, said Olga Lautman, an expert on Russia and Ukraine who works with the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, D.C., and The Institute for European Integrity in Brussels, Belgium.

Lautman said the FSB could be trying to discredit Prigozhin. She noted the only Russian media outlet that reported on the video was Moskovskij Komsomolets, which is reportedly linked to the FSB.

Moreover, the news article mentioned the U.S. government has designated Wagner as a transnational criminal organization without defending the company, Lautman said.

“They do the same thing with various other terrorist organizations,” Lautman said. “When they write someone said something from the Taliban or ISIS, they always put a reminder that this is a terrorist organization. In this case, just to mention it; if they were solely using it for propaganda, then the article would have a different tone, like: Oh look, we’re going to have Americans fighting for Wagner’ – without the reminder that it’s a TCO [transnational criminal organization].”

Any American who ends up becoming a mercenary for Wagner would be risking severe legal consequences for themselves and their families, said Adam Pearlman, an attorney with Lexpat Global Services, an international law firm.

“For starters, Treasury has designated Wagner as a TCO not just once, but three times,” Pearlman told Task & Purpose. “That indicates a pragmatic appetite to ensure the sanctions match the realities of the situation on the ground. Violations for some of these sanctions can be up to $1 million and 20 years in prison.”

Authorities can also seize individual and family assets of anyone who violates those sanctions, Pearlman said.

Separately, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation that would designate Wagner as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, Pearlman said. Working for or providing other support to such a terrorist organization is a federal crime that carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison — or a life sentence if someone dies as a result of the offense.

Since Ukraine has outlawed mercenaries, Americans who fight for Wagner could also find themselves prosecuted under Ukrainian law, Pearlman said.

The Justice Department did not provide a comment for this story.

If American veterans join Wagner, they could lose their benefits as well as their U.S. citizenship, said Chad Lennon, a military law attorney with the Tully Rinckey law firm.

“If a veteran goes out — or even if a citizen goes out — and supports another country’s military and receives benefits, that individual could lose benefits afforded to them through this country,” Lennon said. “If you are looking at somebody who has, let’s say, a military retirement, they could lose that retirement; they could lose any VA [Department of Veterans Affairs] benefits by allying themselves with another country because they’ve joined their military.”

Even though veterans who fight for Ukraine could face the same legal risks, Americans who join Wagner are more likely to be prosecuted because the U.S. government considers Russia as an adversary, while Ukraine is viewed as a partner.

“Obviously, it’s definitely advised for someone who is an American citizen to not go and look to join Wagner or the Russian army or the Russian military,” Lennon said. “I would even say I probably wouldn’t advise someone to go and join the Ukrainian army because of what could potentially happen.”

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09/06/2023September 6, 2023

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken makes a surprise visit to Kyiv and is expected to announce a new aid package for Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday made an unannounced visit to Kyiv where he is expected to announce a new aid package worth more than $1 billion (€930 million).

The Reuters news agency cited a senior State Department official as saying Blinken’s visit to Ukraine would last two days, making it the first overnight trip since Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

Visit comes amid reports of Russian air strikes

Blinken’s visit came hours after reports that Russia had launched its first missile attack on the capital in a week.

While there were no reports of deaths or injuries in the capital, regional officials said one civilian was killed and port infrastructure was damaged in air strikes in the southern region of Odesa.

Shortly after arriving in Kyiv, Blinken placed a wreath at the Berkovetske cemetery in commemoration of Ukrainian military personnel who had been killed defending the country.

Blinken to meet Ukraine’s top three

Washington’s top diplomat is expected to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba for talks on the current counteroffensive and efforts to rebuild the country.

The US has invested more than $43.8 billion in security assistance in Ukraine’s sovereignty and includes includes more than $43.1 billion since Russia’s invasion, according to State Department figures.

Blinken previously visited Ukraine in April 2022  — together with Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin — and September 2022. 

Before Wednesday, there had been no mention of the trip from his department, and it comes as Ukraine’s Parliament gets set to approve the appointment of a new defense minister after Oleksii Reznikov was dismissed over the weekend.

Parliament is expected to confirm former lawmaker Rustem Umerov as his successor.

kb/sms (Reuters, AP)

The Wagner Group isn’t just active in Ukraine. It also has a presence in many other countries, including Syria or Mali. And it’s not the only Russian private military company either. Over the past few years, there has been an increase in these kinds of groups, also known as PMCs, in Russia, a report from the US-based think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says.

It is not always possible to accurately track the exact activities of the Wagner Group, headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, and other PMCs because they allegedly act independently of the Russian government and conventional military forces. However analysts believe that the group is likely active in more than 30 countries around the world. 

In Europe

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the Wagner Group has increasingly appeared in headlines. The mercenary organization was first spotted in 2014, in the Donbas region of Ukraine, where it supported pro-Russian separatists. Since then the private army has steadily grown.

“Wagner almost certainly now commands up to 50,000 fighters in Ukraine and has become a key component of the Ukraine campaign,” the UK’s Ministry of Defense wrote on Twitter earlier this year.

Prigozhin himself recently talked about just 25,000 fighters.

The Wagner Group has recruited extensively in Russia’s penal system and senior leaders include disgraced former members of the Russian military. In Ukraine, the mercenaries played an important role in the battle for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and declared victory there in May, saying they would hand the territory over to the regular Russian military. 

In Africa

The Wagner Group is particularly active in Africa. The private military company is thought to act in Russian interests there by doing things like engaging in the extraction of raw materials, undermining democratic actors and investing in disinformation campaigns.


Sudan is considered one of the African countries most influenced by Russia. The Wagner Group has been active in Sudan for years and supports the country’s military government. According to observers, the main aim of the Wagner Group here is to secure Russian access to valuable raw materials  including gold, manganese, silicon and uranium deposits

“Yevgeny Prigozhin and his network are exploiting Sudan’s natural resources for personal gain and spreading malign influence around the globe,” former US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2020, while announcing sanctions on Prigozhin.

At the time, the US government also noted that a Russian company, M Invest, based in St. Petersburg, had links to the Wagner Group. It had been granted a concession in 2017 by the former Sudanese government to explore gold mining sites. Wagner operatives also provided security at the gold mines.

Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin C addresses his units withdrawing from Bakhmut.Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin (center) is known to be outspokenImage: Concord Press Office/ITAR-TASS/IMAGO

“M Invest serves as a cover for PMC Wagner forces operating in Sudan,” the US Treasury statement said, “and was responsible for developing plans for former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to suppress protestors seeking democratic reforms.”


Mali’s military rulers, who took power in a 2021 coup, also work with the Wagner Group. Earlier this year, members of the United Nations’ Working Group on the use of mercenaries called for investigations into crimes committed by Wagner Group fighters and Mali government forces.

Since 2021, the UN experts had “received persistent and alarming accounts of horrific executions, mass graves, acts of torture, rape and sexual violence, pillaging, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances perpetrated by Malian armed forces and their allies,” a UN statement said.

Protesters holds a banner reading "Thank you Wagner" in RussianRussia’s presence in Mali has become stronger after European nations like France pulled out troops Image: Florent Vergnes/AFP/Getty Images

Central African Republic 

In a February 2023 interview, the Russian ambassador to the Central African Republic said that there were 1,890 “Russian instructors” in the country. Wagner Group fighters came to the country officially as advisors and military trainers and they also serve on the security detail of President Faustin-Archange Touadera. In return for this kind of support, the Wagner Group is alleged to have gained access to contracts to extract resources such as diamonds, gold and timber.

As in Mali, the incidence of reports of human rights violations by the Wagner Group has risen. A 2021 UN report noted acts like excessive use of force, rape, torture and widespread looting.

In Latin America


According to news agency Reuters, Wagner Group members were in Caracas in 2019 to provide security for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro after protests against him. The Wagner Group has also trained elite combat units in Venezuela.

Venezuela and Russia have had close ties, both military and economic, for years. Russia is one of the largest creditors of the Venezuelan government, extending about $17 billion (€15,6 billion) in loans to Caracas since 2006. Russia is also interested in securing access to Venezuela’s oil. The Latin American country has the largest proven oil reserves in the world.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov meets his counterpart in Venezuela in early 2023.Longstanding ties: Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov meets his Venezuelan counterpart, Yvan Gil, in early 2023.Image: Jesus Vargas/AP/dpa/picture alliance

In Asia

According to analysis by various think tanks, the Wagner Group is also active in Asia. There are several PMCs working in Sri Lanka, a report by Molfar, a Ukrainian consultancy, said in a catalogue of 37 Russian military companies working abroad. Open source investigators have found links between Russian operators working for the PMCs based in countries like Sri Lanka and the Wagner Group. The network of connections is complex. 

In the Middle East


Wagner Group fighters were first confirmed to be in Syria in late 2015 after a number of them were identified as having been killed by anti-government militias. Russia, a longtime ally of the country’s authoritarian government, had come to the aid of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad earlier that year.

Mercenaries from the Wagner Group fought alongside regular Russian soldiers during Syria’s civil war and saw active combat.

The Syrian conflict is now at a kind of stalemate and since the start of the war in Ukraine, fighters from Russia, including from the Wagner Group, have been pulled out of the Middle Eastern nation. At its peak, the Wagner Group is thought to have had more than 5,000 fighters in Syria.


In Libya, the Wagner Group has acted as a standalone force supporting one side in the country’s ongoing conflict. Since 2014, after dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in a revolution, Libya has effectively been split into two. There are opposing governments located in the east and west of the country.

A view of 10 tons of ammunition cleared from civilian settlements in LIbza.The UN accused Russian mercenaries in Libya of breaking international law by using mines in civilian areasImage: Hazem Turkia/AA/picture alliance

Wagner Group fighters are thought to have been in Libya since 2014 and were tasked with supporting the eastern-based government and its de-facto head, former Libyan warlord Khalifa Hifter with tasks like security and training. In 2019, they openly took part in Hifter’s attack on the western Libyan government based in Tripoli.

It’s unclear how many Wagner Group personnel remain in Libya — previously there were around 2,000 in the country — but it is thought that the group was able to extend its operations into countries like Sudan, from its base in Libya.

In both Libya and Syria, Wagner Group fighters have been accused of torture, indiscriminate killing and other war crimes.

It is also highly likely the Wagner Group has ties to individuals in the United Arab Emirates, the US Department of Defense has previously said. The US government believes that the Wagner Group was being paid by the UAE to support Hifter in Libya.  

This story was originally published in German. 

For years, it was shrouded in secrecy, then infamy, and after claims of a “rebellion” in Russia in June, questions about the notorious Wagner Group and the intentions of its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin — who Russian officials said was killed in an airplane crash Aug. 24 — were swirling.

The group has been a key piece of Russia’s strategy in Ukraine, with Wagner forces being used to hold cities like Bakhmut. Prigozhin had sharply criticized Russian military leaders for weeks before the rebellion calling the top brass incompetent, even traitorous.  

Tension between Russia’s defense ministry and Wagner escalated dramatically when Prigozhin alleged that Russian forces had attacked Wagner camps in eastern Ukraine, killing dozens of his men. Prigozhin issued video taped remarks that appeared to call for a rebellion against Russian military leadership, but he was characteristically vague in defining his plans.

Russia Political Infighting In this grab taken from a video and released by Prigozhin Press Service on June 23, 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the outspoken millionaire head of the private military contractor Wagner, speaks during his interview at an unspecified location. Prigozhin Press Service via AP, File

Prigozhin’s Wagner forces left Ukraine and marched into Russia on June 23 seizing control of the Russian military headquarters for the southern region in Rostov-on-Don, which oversees the fighting in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the uprising “a stab in the back” in a televised address in June 2023.

“All those who prepared the rebellion will suffer inevitable punishment,” Putin said. “The armed forces and other government agencies have received the necessary orders.”

On Aug. 22, Prigozhin appeared in his first video since leading the failed mutiny against Russian commanders in June. He appeared to be somewhere in Africa, where the Wagner Group has been active. Standing in arid desert land and dressed in camouflage with a rifle in his hand, he said in the video that Wagner was making Russia great on all continents and making Africa “more free.” CBS News has not verified Prigozhin’s location or when the video was taken.

On Wednesday, Aug. 23, Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on a plane that crashed in Russia, killing 10 people, authorities said. However, officials had yet to officially confirm the identities of the passengers.

What is the Wagner Group? 

Wagner is actually a group of entities that operate as a private military company, or PMC. These PMCs can be hired by governments for security or combat services. 

They aren’t uncommon: The United States has used private military companies during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, there are differences between the commonly accepted definition of a PMC and Russia’s version of the companies. 

“In NATO countries, in Western countries, the main logic behind using private contractors when it comes to security and defense policy has been the flexibility of resources,” said Dr. András Rácz, a Russian expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “However, on the Russian side, the logic has been different. Russia, from the beginning, perceived these companies as a way of exerting state power in a covert way.”

Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin? 

Trump Russia Probe A file photo shows Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo/AP

As Wagner’s publicity has grown, so has that of its shadowy founder, Prigozhin. His work running a catering company with Kremlin contracts earned him the nickname “Putin’s chef,” but Prigozhin long denied any connection to the group before finally admitting to being its founder last year.

“Prigozhin is a mastermind of media and also is the mastermind of social media,” said Kateryna Stepanenko, a Russia analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, a public policy research based in Washington, D.C. “While Putin and his propagandists have been dominating the Russian television and traditional outlets, Prigozhin is innovative because he had weaponized a network of military correspondents, military correspondents and bloggers.” 

Prigozhin is wanted by the FBI for “Conspiracy to Defraud the United States.” The federal law enforcement agency is offering a $250,000 award for information leading to Prigozhin’s arrest for allegedly overseeing the political and electoral interference of the St. Petersburg, Florida-based Internet Research Agency from 2014 to 2018. The agency, for which Prigozhin was the primary funder, worked to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the FBI alleged.

Russian oligarch leads mercenaries against Ukraine 02:00

Prigozhin openly and increasingly criticized Russia’s top military commanders as the country failed to make significant gains in Ukraine. Meanwhile, he has positioned himself as a hero.

“He knows that his key differentiator from the Kremlin propaganda is that level of criticism, level of honesty, you know, that things are not really going as well, and criticism sells,” Stepanenko said. “And I think that that’s the platform that he’s really trying to advance on and solidify himself as a prominent figure in Russia.”

Seemingly squaring off against Putin in the brief weekend “rebellion” and being subsequently banished to Belarus stoked rumors he would be assassinated. His purported death on Aug. 23 fueled speculation of retaliation by the Russian president.

“People keep saying that he’s marked for assassination,” Jeff Hawn, a Russia expert at the London School of Economics, told CBS News in June, as the Kremlin tried to show it was business as usual after the chaotic weekend.

“There’s a very good chance,” said Hawn, adding that if there was an attempt on Prigozhin’s life, “I don’t think it might come from the Kremlin. I think it might come from the Ministry of Defense, because he embarrassed them hugely. But then again, he’s been marked for assassination since the nineties.”

There have been no official statements from Russia on the cause of the crash, but one U.S. official told CBS News the plane was likely brought down by an onboard explosion and not shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

Where else has Wagner worked and how does it make money? 

Wagner first popped up in Ukraine in 2014, when soldiers in unmarked uniforms appeared to help pro-Russian forces illegally annex territory for Russia. Before that the group is believed to have been involved in supporting Russian forces in Syria. 

In 2022, the private army became a major part of Russia’s invasion, even recruiting fighters from Russian prisons and promising them pardons to beef up numbers on the battlefield, though Prigozhin said in February that the practice would be stopped.    

In addition to deploying Wagner troops to Ukraine, the Wagner Group has been active in Africa, where some nations have turned to the private army to fill security gaps or prop up dictatorial regimes. 

“In most cases, they provide training for local military forces, local security forces, but they are also engaged in VIP protection, also in guarding. And if necessary, they are able to conduct also high intensity operations, I mean real combat,” said Rácz.

In some countries, like the Central African Republic, Wagner exchanges services for almost unfettered access to natural resources. A CBS News investigation found that Russian cargo flights stopped in the country twice a week, possibly smuggling billions of dollars worth of gold back to Russia. 

How Russia’s Wagner mercenary group exploits Africa for funding 03:16

In addition to gold, CBS News also found Wagner was involved in illegal timber harvesting in CAR, another lucrative source of income.  

Putin said on June 27, just after the failed Wagner uprising, that the Russian government had paid more than $1 billion to the Wagner Group during over the last year.

“The state paid to the Wagner group 86.262 billion rubles (around $1 billion) for salaries for fighters and incentive rewards between May 2022 and May 2023 alone,” the Russian president said in a televised meeting with law enforcement officials.

Wagner Group charged with war crimes 

As the operations of the once-shadowy group have become more public, so have their tactics. 

Wagner mercenaries have been accused of atrocities, including mass murder and rape, across Africa and alongside Russian forces in Ukraine. 

In Ukraine, fighters have been charged with thousands of war crimes. When previously asked for comment, the Wagner Group dismissed questions from CBS News as boorish and provocative, and insisted the company did not commit these crimes. 

Russia’s Wagner Group accused of a massacre hidden from the world 05:01

In addition to their actions on the battlefield, military experts say Wagner recruits have been poorly equipped or even used as cannon fodder. U.S. officials estimate that about 30,000 Wagner fighters have been killed or wounded so far in Ukraine, all while Russia’s advance has stalled or been pushed back, raising questions about the future of the group, and its leader, Prigozhin. 

Experts said it’s possible the group could be replaced by Putin. 

“I think that Wagner, insofar as it’s been useful in Ukraine, could certainly be replaced by others. Where you start to have much more of an issue in replacing Wagner and in replacing Prigozhin is in a place like sub-Saharan Africa,” said Catrina Doxsee, an associate director and associate fellow for the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

“As the U.S. and other Western countries, including in Europe, try to dislodge Russia’s influence and try to make the argument against Wagner, there really needs to be this conversation about viable alternatives,” for countries in the developing world to meet their security and development needs.

Where does the Wagner Group’s name come from?

The group’s name appears to come from a man credited with co-founding it, Dmitry Utkin, a former officer in Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU. Utkin retired from the Russian security services but went on to serve as a senior military command for the Wagner Group, a role he’s believed to still hold. 

A nationalist with Nazi sympathies, Utkin’s callsign in the Russian services was said to have been “Wagner” — a nod to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s love for the 19th-century German composer of the same name. Utkin was also reportedly killed in the Aug. 23 crash.

Reporting contributed by Andy Triay, Debora Patta and Cara Tabachnick


Haley Ott


Haley Ott is an international reporter for CBS News based in London.

Authorities share new details about the gunman and the victims of an apparent race-motivated shooting in Florida. Russia confirms the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin. And Vivek Ramaswamy says he would have certified Biden’s victory on Jan. 6, 2021.

Here’s the biggest news you missed this weekend.

Jacksonville shooter is identified

Authorities on Sunday named the white gunman who fatally shot three Black people in a race-motivated attack in Jacksonville, Florida, as Ryan Palmeter, 21.

According to police, video shows Palmeter entering a Dollar General parking lot Saturday afternoon and killing a woman in her car before he enters the store and kills two other people. Officials believe the gunman died by suicide as police entered the store.

Follow NBC News’ live blog for the latest on the Jacksonville shooting.

Officials also said Sunday that Palmeter was encountered at Edward Waters University, a historically Black college in Jacksonville, before the shooting. A campus security officer engaged with Palmeter, who refused to identify himself and then left the campus minutes before the shooting.

Palmeter, who wore a tactical vest and was armed with an AR-style rifle and Glock handgun decorated with swastikas, according to authorities, had left messages for his parents, the media and federal law enforcement officials detailing racial hatred.

“This was, quite frankly, a maniac who decided he wanted to take lives,” Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters said. “He targeted a certain group of people, and that’s Black people. That’s what he said he wanted to kill. And that’s very clear.”

The shooting was the latest act of American gun violence motivated by racist ideology, a national scourge that federal officials have described as one of the most lethal forms of modern domestic terrorism.

Mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin confirmed dead. What now for the Wagner Group?

Russian investigative officials confirmed the death of mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, citing genetic analysis of the bodies in Wednesday’s plane crash.

Prigozhin’s death leaves an uncertain future for the Wagner Group and its often brutal and destabilizing presence in eastern Europe and the Middle East and across Africa.

Prigozhin and his mercenaries have supported strongmen in Africa and earned riches on the back of it, accused of exploiting gold and diamond mines in some countries in return for military support.

After the deaths of Prigozhin and some of his lieutenants, a power vacuum in the Wagner group could make it easier for the Kremlin and Russia’s military leaders to determine what happens next.

Star swimmer died of fentanyl poisoning

A former star swimmer who was found dead in the U.S. Virgin Islands in February died of accidental fentanyl poisoning, police said Saturday.

Jamie Cail, 42, died of “fentanyl intoxication,” the Virgin Islands Police Department said Saturday, citing an autopsy report from the territory’s medical examiner.

As a teenager, Cail won a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle relay as a member of the U.S. team at the 1997 Pan Pacific Championships, according to the swimming news website SwimSwam.

At the March on Washington 60th anniversary, new challenges meet a familiar fight for justice

Dozens of marchers and speakers at the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom said many of the same concerns of the historic Aug. 28, 1963, gathering still linger.

The anniversary was billed as a “continuation, not a commemoration,” hosted by a number of groups, including the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the Drum Major Institute, which is modeled after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s principles to strengthen voting rights and end segregation.  

Martin Luther King III speaks at the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington.Martin Luther King III speaks at the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington. Elias Williams for NBC News

“It’s a shift, a change that has taken place,” said Ann Breedlove, who attended the 1963 March on Washington. “It’s too bad we are still talking about these issues. But our leaders and Black people are speaking louder. We’re tired — sick and tired — of asking for justice.”

Speakers addressed concerns over Black history’s being scrubbed from K-12 education, abortion access, the Supreme Court’s abolishing affirmative action and reversals of LGBTQ rights.

Meet the Press

Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy said Sunday in an interview on “Meet the Press” that he would have certified the results of the 2020 presidential election and that then-Vice President Mike Pence missed a “historic opportunity” to initiate changes on Jan. 6, 2021.

Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur who has closely aligned himself with former President Donald Trump, saw his star rise during the first Republican presidential primary debate last week.

Chuck Todd asked Ramaswamy whether Pence had done the right thing on Jan. 6 by certifying the results of the election. “I would have done it very differently. I think that there was a historic opportunity that he missed to reunite this country in that window,” Ramaswamy said.

He said that had he been in Pence’s position, he would have pushed “reforms” through Congress before he certified the election.

“Here’s what I would have said: ‘We need single-day voting on Election Day, we need paper ballots, and we need government-issued ID matching the voter file.’ And if we achieve that, then we have achieved victory and we should not have any further complaint about election integrity. I would have driven it through the Senate,” he said.

Pence’s presidential campaigned denounced Ramaswamy’s remarks as an attempt to nationalize voting and for a “lack of understanding of how our system of government works.”

You can watch the full interview here.

Politics in Brief

Biden impeachment inquiry: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy signaled movement toward an impeachment inquiry into Biden’s business dealings, calling the move a “natural step forward.”

Newsom vs. DeSantis: Some of Biden’s political advisers see California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to debate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a bad idea, saying it carries more risk than potential reward.

Immigration: The Biden administration and New York officials are fighting over what to do about 58,000 asylumseekers in New York City’s care, some of whom are sleeping on the streets as shelters reach capacity.

Iowa voters: Republican caucusgoers in the Hawkeye State are self-described “traditional” conservatives who overwhelmingly say they would use the phrase “pro-life” to describe themselves, according to new data from the latest NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom statewide poll.

Culture & Trends

Bob Barker on the set of "The Price is Right" in Los Angeles, in 1985.Bob Barker on the set of “The Price is Right” in Los Angeles in 1985.CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

Bob Barker, longtime ‘The Price Is Right’ host, dies at 99

Bob Barker, the longtime host of television’s “The Price Is Right,” who used his combination of comfort-food charm and deadpan humor to become an American television staple, died this weekend. He was 99.

Before Barker took the helm of the game show in 1972, it had faded significantly from its glory days and had been punted by two networks before it landed at CBS.

Barker found the show its own voice, and it has continued to air a decade and a half after he retired.

Read more about Bob Barker’s life and career.

In case you missed it

CORRECTION (Aug. 28, 2023, 1:46 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated Ryan Palmeter’s age. He was 21, not 29.

Elizabeth Robinson
Elizabeth Both
Josh Feldman

A retired deputy police chief spoke to 2News about why the Utah County Attorney opened an investigation into the officer-involved fatal shooting of a Provo man.

The Utah County Attorney’s Office announced they have opened an investigation into the FBI shooting that resulted in the death of a Provo man to determine if the shooting death was justified.

The FBI shot and killed Craig Robertson on Aug. 9 while investigating online threats they say he made against President Joe Biden.

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Secretary of the Security Council of Armenia Armen Grigoryan held meetings at the headquarters of the US Central Intelligence Agency, APA reports citing the Facebook page of the Armenian Secretary of the Security Council.

“During my visit to Washington, I had business meetings at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley,” Grigoryan said.

He did not disclose the details of the meeting.

Before that, Grigoryan discussed the prospects of developing bilateral relations with Laura Cooper, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon.


South Caucasus in the Russian geopolitical context

Resource constraints currently prevent Russia from playing a dominant role in the South Caucasus, and Moscow is in process of defining its interests in the new reality in the region. Such is the conclusion of the South Caucasus analytical center, located in Baku. Azerbaijani experts believe that after the second Karabakh war, Turkey has every chance of becoming a leader in this region.

The South Caucasus think tank in Baku has published a report on the situation in the region and Russia’s influence. JAMnews is republishing this material with slight amendations.

Russia and South Caucasus

The South Caucasus neighbors Russia, Turkey and Iran, all countries with an imperial past. At present, Russia is competing both with Turkey and Iran, as well as the United States and the European Union.

After the collapse of the USSR, the South Caucasus was accepted by Russia as part of the post-Soviet space. Relations with the post-Soviet states are regulated not only by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, but also by the administration of the President of Russia.

In the 90’s Russia gave priority to relations with the West, leaving the South Caucasus in the background. Regional conflicts were frozen and despite mediation efforts, there was no progress in resolutions.

After Vladimir Putin came to power, the post-Soviet space came to the fore. In a speech in 2005, Putin called the collapse of the USSR “the geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” In subsequent years, relations with the post-Soviet countries overshadowed even relations with partner states with which Russia cooperates within various international organizations.

Despite the importance of the region and Moscow’s efforts, relations with nations of the South Caucasus are developing unevenly.

Classification of South Caucasian countries from the point of view of the Russian Federation

Maximalist expectations – Armenia. This country is positioned as a member of the EAEU and the CSTO.

The 102nd military unit of Russia is located in Gyumri, and the Russian Air Force is deployed in Erebuni. Russia guards Armenia’s borders with neighboring Iran and Turkey, as well as the country’s airspace.

Before the commissioning of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline in 2007, Russia provided Armenia with its natural gas in full. ArmGosgazprom is 80% owned by Russia’s Gazprom, the Metsamor nuclear power plant is controlled by Russia’s Inter RAO, and the Armenian power grid is run by Russian billionaire of Armenian origin Samvel Karapetyan. Armenian railways have been leased under concession until 2038 to the Russian company South Caucasian Railways. Two out of three mobile operators operating in Armenia are Russian. Russia is the largest trading partner and the main owner of state debt in Armenia.

Minimalist expectations – Azerbaijan. This country, although not a member of the EAEU and the CSTO, does not aim to become a member of NATO and the EU.

Baku is pursuing a pragmatic policy with Russia. Even if some of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy steps are not consistent with the Kremlin’s position, they do not pose a threat to Russia’s security.

Territory of threat – Georgia. This country is defined by the desire to join NATO and the EU.

Three post-Soviet countries – Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova – are regarded by Russia as a threat to their security because of the possibility of deploying NATO military infrastructure there and using these states against the Russian Federation.

Mikheil Saakashvili’s ascension to power in Georgia actualized the country’s relations with NATO and the European Union. In 2007 Russian military bases were expelled from Georgia, with the exception of the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The “five-day war” in 2008 ended with Rusia’s recognition of the independence of the separatist regimes in the internationally-recognized territory of Georgia.

Ivanishvili’s victory partially restored relations, but did not take Georgia completely out of the Western vector. Tbilisi signed an association agreement with the EU, and in 2014 received a package of “enhanced cooperation” with NATO.

Low efficiency of soft power

The low effectiveness of Russia’s soft power (economic and humanitarian) prevents Moscow from building relations with the countries of the South Caucasus. For this reason Russia is attempting to interfere in the internal affairs of these states, seeking to adjust their foreign policy in accordance with its own interests.

The failure of such attempts forces Russia to be more pragmatic. After the second Karabakh war, Russia has been interested in creating a new balance in the South Caucasus in partnership with regional states without the participation of the West.

Pros and cons of the geographical location of the South Caucasus

Geographically, Russia, Turkey and Iran are in contact in the South Caucasus. The rivalry and cooperation of these countries, which are the main players in the Syrian crisis, also affect the South Caucasus.

For Russia’s geopolitical rivals the United States and the European Union, the South Caucasus is also important in terms of energy security and access to Central Asia.

Along with Central Asia, the South Caucasus is considered a convenient point for influencing Russia. Thus, an adequate balance of forces in this region is vital for Russia.

Russia itself is also considered a Caucasian state, inasmuch as in the North Caucasus there are seven autonomous republics and two territories that are part of the federal districts of the Russian Federation.

Balance of power in the South Caucasus

For thirty years after the collapse of the USSR, the balance of power in the South Caucasus generally suited Russia. During this period, the three states of the South Caucasus – Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia – built relations of various levels with Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Mathematically, the balance of power in the region can be characterized as follows:

  • Russia +2, -1. Alliance with Armenia (+), strategic partnership with Azerbaijan (+), zero relations with Georgia (-).
  • Turkey +2, -1. Alliance with Azerbaijan (+), trategic partnership with Georgia (+), zero relations with Armenia (-).
  • Iran +3. It has diplomatic relations with all three countries of the South Caucasus. But there are no allied and strategic partnerships.

Russia and Turkey each have one ally, one strategic partner, and one troubled state. But the main difference is that the problematic country for Turkey (Armenia) is an ally for Russia, and the problematic country for Russia (Georgia) is a strategic partner of Turkey.

This state of affairs could turn the South Caucasus into the locus of a new rivalry between Russia and Turkey. But Azerbaijan, which is both an ally of Turkey and a strategic partner of Russia, forms a necessary stability in the region.

What has changed after the second Karabakh war?

The results of the second Karabakh war in a certain sense changed the balance of power:

  • An ally of Turkey defeated an ally of Russia, and restored territorial integrity;
  • Russia, which has its military bases on the territory of Armenia and Georgia, according to the tripartite statement of November 10, 2020, deployed its peacekeeping forces in Azerbaijan;
  • With the participation of the neighbors of the region and the countries of the South Caucasus, a 3 + 3 group is being formed. This group, which does not involve the US and the EU, is in Russia’s interests;
  • There are prospects for the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey.

If these prospects turn into reality, the balance of power may change. The new conditions keep Russia’s relations with the countries of the region unchanged, but for Turkey there is a prospect of +3, which can turn it into a leading country in the region. Georgia’s refusal of the 3+3 group nullifies the same prospect for the Russian Federation.

Oddities of the post-conflict period

In the post-conflict period, steps that did not correspond to the interests of Russia were taken by Armenia. Pashinyan invited the EU as a mediator, and after that the mediating role of Russia, which had been the Kremlin’s monopoly for exactly a year, began to weaken.

Armenia has slowed down on decisions made via Russian mediation, and prefers to let the European Union fill that role.

And since February 2022, Russia has directed its attention and resources towards Ukraine.

In such conditions, due to Armenia’s refusal to grant Russia special rights in the Zangezur corridor, problems have arisen in relations between these two countries. Russia, though it cannot participate in regional processes to the same extent, is a supporter of fulfilling the conditions of the tripartite statement and opening regional roads.

Thus, limited resources currently do not allow Russia to play a dominant role in the region. Moscow is in the process of defining its interests in the new reality in the South Caucasus. This is the main reason for the Kremlin’s silence.

Another paradox of the post-conflict period is that Azerbaijan has become the most predictable state for Russia in the South Caucasus. Geostrategic prospects and economic expediency force Russia to take into account the position of the countries of the region and, first of all, the position of Azerbaijan.


FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — In a secluded stairwell at CIA headquarters last year, officer trainee Ashkan Bayatpour came up behind a colleague, wrapped a scarf around her neck and plainly spoke as he tried to kiss her on the mouth.

“There are many uses for this,” the woman recalls him saying. “This is what I want to do to you.”

Bayatpour was convicted Wednesday of a state misdemeanor charge of assault and battery in a case that was remarkable for breaking through the CIA’s veil of ultra-secrecy and playing out in a public courtroom where it has emboldened a sexual misconduct reckoning.

At least two-dozen women have come forward in recent months with their own complaints of abusive treatment within the CIA, telling authorities and Congress not only about sexual assaults, unwanted touching and coercion but of what they contend is a campaign by the spy agency to keep them from speaking out, with dire warnings it could wreck their careers and even endanger national security.

“There are harassers everywhere and bosses that try to cover them up,” said Kristin Alden, a Washington attorney who represents some of the women who have filed complaints. “But the whole nature of intelligence work — the culture of secrecy and people working under assumed names — really elevates the chilling effect of retaliation and isolation that victims feel.”

Details of Bayatpour’s July 13, 2022, stairwell attack have not been previously reported but were confirmed by The Associated Press through court records and by several people familiar with the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The 39-year-old Alabama native and former U.S. Navy intelligence officer has remained on the job for more than a year since the woman reported the assault to the CIA and nine months since she reported it to the FBI and local law enforcement.

Several of the woman’s female co-workers attended Wednesday’s proceedings, becoming emotional after Fairfax General District Court Judge Dipti Pidikiti-Smith found Bayatpour guilty, sentenced him to six months’ probation and ordered him to surrender any firearms and stay away from the woman. His attorney has appealed.

The CIA declined to say whether Bayatpour has faced internal discipline, saying it does not comment on whether individuals are affiliated with the agency.

“This guilty verdict came despite and not because of the CIA,” said Kevin Carroll, the attorney for Bayatpour’s accuser. The AP does not identify victims of alleged sexual abuse or domestic violence.

“It is a gigantic problem that the agency has not yet begun to get its arms around,” he added. “It’s an environment where a lot of stuff is secret, and that attracts some bad actors.”

Complaints to the CIA’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity about sexual harassment and discrimination this year have already doubled last year’s total, detailing 76 separate incidents.

The top Democrat and Republican overseeing the CIA, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have called for a watchdog investigation and are considering hearings into why the agency has failed women in their ranks for so long. Since 2018, out of 290 total employment-related complaints, the agency has substantiated just a single case based on sex.

The congressional scrutiny prompted CIA Director William Burns in May to launch a series of reforms to streamline claims, support victims and more quickly discipline those behind misconduct. That includes hiring a psychologist steeped in victim advocacy to lead the agency’s fledgling Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and replacing the leadership of the CIA office where many of the women say they were discouraged from making complaints.

“Our officers deserve no less than our laser sharp focus on ensuring they have a safe and secure work environment,” said CIA spokeswoman Tammy Kupperman Thorp.

Congressional aides told the AP they have interviewed or had contact with at least two-dozen women CIA employees this year. They described misconduct ranging from lewd remarks about sexual fantasies at after-work happy hours to a case in which a senior manager showed up at a subordinate’s house at night with a firearm demanding sex. Some of the incidents go back years and took place as officers were on risky covert missions overseas, while others took place at CIA headquarters.

An attorney for some of the women says one claims she was given alcohol on her first day at a new posting and then sexually assaulted by the most senior official. Another contends her supervisor told her on her first day of work that they were “soulmates” and followed up with text messages suggesting sexual trysts.

Washington attorney Kevin Byrnes said many of his clients were told they could not identify their attackers, go to law enforcement or even speak to family members about their claims due to national security concerns or the risk of divulging unspecified classified information.

“The CIA apparently believes that it is not subject to federal law,” Byrnes said.

Other previously unknown cases of assault and harassment have surfaced in dozens of appeals filed by CIA employees with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces laws prohibiting workplace harassment based on sex.

They include the case of a female contractor who alleged she endured a “cycle of pressure and manipulation” by a CIA manager who gave her unsolicited gifts, harassed her by email and threatened to expose their relationship to her partner.

In another case, a female CIA employee said one of her co-workers repeatedly discussed bondage, sent her nude photos of women and threatened to get her security credentials revoked unless she had sex with him. Among the unwanted advances was an attempt at work by the co-worker to ” airplane feed her pasta, which he spilled on her and then offered to clean up from the front of her shirt in an attempt to feel her breast.”

“There’s safety in numbers,” said Ally Coll, a law professor at the City University of New York and founder of the Purple Method, a nonprofit that has advised Congress on how to strengthen anti-harassment rules at federal agencies. “When you learn that abuse is happening to others, you’re more likely to report it and feel a sense of responsibility to help.”

Prior to Bayatpour, the only other CIA employee publicly known to have been charged with sexual misconduct in recent years was a former officer fluent in Spanish and Mandarin who federal investigators have described as a “serial sexual offender.”

Brian Jeffrey Raymond is alleged to have drugged and assaulted at least two-dozen women while they were unconscious over a 14-year period in which he worked for the agency in multiple countries. But Raymond was only discovered in 2020 after a naked woman he met on Tinder was spotted screaming for help from the balcony of his government-leased apartment in Mexico City.

When the FBI began investigating, they found on his smartphone hundreds of photographs and videos of 24 unconscious naked women. In some, Raymond can be seen opening the women’s eyelids, groping and straddling them.

After Raymond withdrew a guilty plea for lesser crimes, a federal grand jury in Washington this year returned a 25-count superseding indictment alleging sexual abuse, coercion and transportation of obscene materials.

In Bayatpour’s case, the woman told investigators that when she shouted for him to stop and attempted to flee, he tried a second time to wrap the scarf around her before grabbing her arm, pulling her toward him and kissing her cheek. Later, he messaged her: “You good?”

Bayatpour’s attorney Stuart Sears acknowledged his client wrapped the scarf around woman in the stairwell but insisted his actions were intended in jest during a 40-minute walk together. The incident, he said, was “a joke that didn’t land the way it was intended to land.”

The victim reported the incident to the CIA within 48 hours, only to feel she was victimized again when the agency told her not to go to law enforcement or even tell her family. In an affidavit, she said that as a result of the attack she takes medicine for post-traumatic stress disorder, suffers suicidal thoughts and lives in fear of encountering her attacker in the cafeteria at work.

Said the woman’s attorney Carroll: “It’s completely unacceptable on every level for this guy to continue to be associated with the agency that I knew.”


Goodman reported from Miami. AP Investigative Researcher Randy Herschaft in New York and Tara Copp in Washington contributed to this report.


Contact AP’s global investigative team at

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Americans are constantly debating policing and gun control. But to discuss these issues, we have to depend on government crime data. Unfortunately, politics has infected the data handling of agencies such as the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, the CDC became the center of controversy when it removed its estimates of defensive gun uses from its website at the request of gun control organizations. For nearly a decade, the CDC cited a 2013 National Academies of Sciences report showing that the annual number of people using guns to stop crime ranged from about 64,000 to 3 million. The CDC website listed the upper figure at 2.5 million.

Mark Bryant, who runs the Gun Violence Archive, wrote to CDC officials after a meeting last year that the 2.5 million number “has been used so often to stop [gun control] legislation.” The CDC’s estimates were subsequently taken down and now lists no numbers.

The FBI is also susceptible to political pressure.

Up until January 2021, I worked in the U.S. Department of Justice as the senior adviser for research and statistics, and part of my job was to evaluate the FBI’s active-shooting reports. I showed the bureau that many cases were missing and that others had been misidentified. Yet, the FBI continues to report that armed citizens stopped only 14 of the 302 active-shooter incidents that it identified for the period 2014-2022.

The correct rate is almost eight times higher. And if we limit the discussion to places where permit holders were allowed to carry, the rate is 11 times higher.

The FBI defines active-shooter incidents as those in which an individual actively kills or attempts to kill people in a populated, public area. But it does not include shootings that are deemed related to other criminal activity, such as robbery or fighting over drug turf. Active shootings may involve just one shot being fired at just one target, even if the target isn’t hit. 

To compile its list, the FBI hired academics at the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University. Police departments don’t collect data, so the researchers had to find news stories about these incidents.

It isn’t surprising that people will miss cases or occasionally misidentify them when using news stories, but the FBI was unwilling to fix its errors when I pointed them out. My organization, the Crime Prevention Research Center, has found many more missed cases and is keeping an updated list. Back in 2015, I published a list of missed cases in a criminology publication.

Unfortunately, the news media unquestioningly reports the FBI numbers. After 22-year-old Elisjsha Dicken used his legally carried concealed handgun to stop what would have been a mass public shooting, a headline on an Associated Press report noted: “Rare in US for an active shooter to be stopped by bystander.” A Washington Post headline proclaimed: “Rampage in Indiana a rare instance of armed civilian ending mass shooting.”

The Crime Prevention Research Center numbers tell a different story: Out of 440 active-shooter incidents from 2014 to 2022, an armed citizen stopped 157. We also found that the FBI had misidentified five cases, usually because the person who stopped the attack was incorrectly identified as a security guard.

We found these cases on a budget of just a few thousand dollars. Though we found that armed citizens had stopped eight times as many cases as the FBI claims, I make no assertion that we unearthed all of these stories. It is quite possible that the news media themselves never cover many such incidents.

While the FBI claims that just 4.6% of active shootings were stopped by law-abiding citizens carrying guns, the percentage that I found was 35.7%. I am more confident that we have identified a higher share of recent cases, and our figure for 2022 was even higher—41.3%.

The FBI doesn’t differentiate between law-abiding citizens stopping attacks where guns are banned and where they are allowed, but you can’t expect law-abiding citizens to stop attacks where it is illegal to carry guns.

In places where law-abiding citizens are allowed to carry firearms, the percentage of active shootings that were stopped is 51%. For 2022, that figure is a remarkable 63.5%.

In order to follow the FBI’s definition, we excluded 27 cases because a law-abiding person with a gun stopped the attacker before he was able to get off a shot.

In an email I received in 2015, a bureau official acknowledged that “the FBI did not come across this incident during its research in 2015, but it does meet the FBI’s active-shooter definition.” The official noted they will miss active-shooter cases because the reports “are limited in scope.” Yet, the FBI database never added the incident.

When The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler reached out to the FBI for comments on our earlier work up through 2021, it emailed: “We have no additional information to provide other than what is provided within the active-shooter reports on our website.”

However, a researcher at Texas State University did respond to two of the cases we had identified in our earlier work. He argued that one case involving a shooting at a dentist office was excluded because it involved a domestic dispute and another at a strip club because it was a “retaliation murder.”

We list 14 examples where the FBI list includes shooting resulting from domestic disputes and three others where a shooting started after someone was denied entry to a lounge or bar. So, why the double standard? Domestic disputes and “retaliation murders” are only included when they don’t involve permit holders stopping the attacks.

The FBI data on active shootings is missing so many defensive gun uses that it’s hard to believe it isn’t intentional. Errors can happen, but the failure to fix past reports shows a troubling disregard for the truth.

The reality is that armed, law-abiding citizens are unsung guardian angels.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics.

The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation.

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