Tag Archives: anti-war

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

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

Today, his official business is a sprawling catering consortium that provides meals to millions of Russian soldiers, policemen, prosecutors, hospital patients and schoolchildren in return for hefty tax-funded payments estimated at at least $3 billion since 2011. Yet his unofficial operations fit the profile of an authoritarian state’s shadow security apparatus: industrial-scale manufacturing of fake-news, intimidating journalists, election interference, political engineering, and actual clandestine military operations. Prigozhin was famously indicted in the US over the role of his troll factory in trying to influence the 2016 elections in favor of Donald Trump, a charge he flatly denies to this day. His troll-factory generated one of the largest known online disinformation campaigns, churning out 71,000 tweets aimed at presenting Russia’s version of events in the downing of flight MH17. The same troll infrastructure posted thousands of messages promoting Brexit. Prigozhin has also been linked to Kremlin-friendly political engineering across dozens of African countries while he has been sanctioned by the US over his funding for the Wagner Group, an unincorporated private military company with a history of clandestine operations in Eastern Ukraine, Syria and several African countries. It was most recently accused of placing booby-trapped mines around Libya’s Tripoli. The EU has yet to sanction him or his metastatic group over any of his activities.

Now, a long-running investigation by Bellingcat, The Insider and Der Spiegel has uncovered that Yevgeny Prigozhin’s disinformation, political interference and military operations are tightly integrated with Russia’s Defense Ministry and its intelligence arm, the GRU. Prigozhin’s private infrastructure – along with that of other government-dependent entrepreneurs, like Kostantin Malofeev – it appears serves as a deniable veneer and a round-tripping money laundering channel for government-mandated overseas operations.

At the same time, Prigozhin’s attempts to take initiative and leverage his crucial role for personal gain has also resulted in embarrassment for the Kremlin. During what appears to have been a failed operation to capture oil-wells from SDF and U.S. Armed Forces in the Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor in February 2018, Wagner mercenaries suffered heavy casualties in a U.S. counter-attack that left the Kremlin scrambling for an appropriate reaction (which never came). On another occasion, Russian mercenaries have posted self-incriminating videos into semi-public online groups, such as this gruesome chronicle of the torture, murder and beheading of a Syrian civilian near Palmyra.

Our investigation team spoke to a number of current and former employees who worked in Prigozhin’s overseas interference and political engineering projects. They told us of widespread lack of motivation, infighting and alcohol-driven dysfunction at these operations, more indicative of bloated, government-funded junkets than a private operation with clear goals and outcomes.

We have also identified a key figure serving as a liaison between Prigozhin’s influencing operations in Africa and the Russian Defense Ministry. According to documents seen by our investigation team and corroborated by interviews, this person has been in overall command of Russian paramilitary operations in Africa, including at the time when three Russian journalists investigating Prigozhin’s operations in the Central African Republic were murdered, as well as while Western journalists were tailed and harassed. This key person appears not to be on the radar of Western intelligence or law enforcement agencies, as he enjoys unrestricted travel in Europe based on multi-entry Schengen visas.

This investigation is based on a review of leaked email archives belonging to employees working for Prigozhin’s group of companies. Some of these archives have already been subject of investigations by independent Russian media while others have been obtained exclusively by the investigative team. We have validated the authenticity of the messages and contained documents through interviews with several former and current employees of Prigozhin’s overseas influencing operations.

Prigozhin’s (un-)Deniable Link to the Kremlin: Digital Breadcrumbs

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s links to the Kremlin and Russia’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) are hard to disguise given his companies’ prominent role as catering providers to the Kremlin and the Russian military. However, the intensity of his communication with the top echelon – both within the Kremlin and the MoD – is difficult to explain away simply based on the “catering” relationship.

Bellingcat has analyzed Prigozhin’s telephone records for an eight-month period spanning late 2013 and early 2014. The records were obtained from hacked emails of Prigozhin’s personal assistant leaked in 2015 by the Russian hacking collective Shaltai Boltay. The emails contained telephone billing records for his company Concord Consulting & Management, and we were able to identify Prigozhin’s personal number among the list of corporate numbers based on a reverse-phone-number-search app. This period coincided with Prigozhin’s troll-farm operations transitioning from a purely domestic political tool – used primarily to trash opposition figures and independent journalists – to an ambitious international operation with more and more efforts allocated to foreign interference operations – first in Ukraine, and later globally.

During this period, Prigozhin spoke or texted with practically the entire leadership of the Presidential Administration Office, along with a number of senior figures at the FSB, in the Federal Protective Service (FSO) and the Ministry of Defense. In particular, he called and texted Dmitry Peskov – President Putin’s adviser and spokesperson – a total of 144 times. He also called – or was called by – Anton Vayno, Putin’s chief of staff, a total of 99 times. He communicated 54 times with Igor Diveykin – Putin’s deputy chief of staff overseeing domestic politics, arguably a job description that doesn’t include the logistics of food catering. Prigozhin spoke more than 25 times with Lt. General Alexey Dyumin – Putin’s ex head of security and – at the time of the calls – deputy director of GRU who supervised the Crimea annexation. He also spoke at least twice in person with Sergey Shoigu, Russia’s minister of defense, while email traffic showed more planned in-person meetings with him. Prigozhin also spoke 31 times with Shoigu’s number two, the Deputy Defense Minister Bulgakov in charge of army logistics. Prigozhin also spoke 3 times with Yury Ushakov, Russia’s former ambassador to the USA and Putin’s senior advisor on foreign policy issues.

The interactive graphic below shows some of the key government figures that Prigozhin communicated with with during this period. By hovering over or clicking a name, a pop-up will show further in formation on the person and the number of communications during the fairly brief 2013-2014 period. Double-click a section (e.g. Ministry of Defense) to only bring up individuals in that grouping.

 

While Prigozhin’s companies were indeed catering providers both to the Kremlin and to the Ministry of Defense, it is not plausible that this service relationship would have required such frequent, high-level communication on either side along with members of state intelligence services – especially given the purely political or military mandates of his counterparts.

The Virtual Reality of Wagner

The Wagner Group – which does not exist on paper – got its name from its purported founder and commander, the elusive and camera-shy Dmitry Utkin, who – thanks to his obsessive fascination with the history of third Reich – had received the nom-de-guerre “Wagner”. Col. Dimitry Utkin, born on 11 June 1970, was a career officer who had seen first-hand military action in both Chechen wars. In the early 2000’s, as the military phase of the second war subsided, he was moved to the town of Pechora near the Estonian border, where he served out the next ten years as commander of GRU’s Second Spetsnaz Brigade. According to his former wife, he found it hard to adapt to civilian life and always longed to be back on the battlefield.

Immediately after his retirement in 2013, Utkin joined a little-known Hong-Kong based private security company called Slavonic Corps (archived website in English and Russian here), which – in May 2013 – advertised online for “24 to 45 year old …former Spetznaz employees.. having the necessary training in military action… for work abroad on business trips of 3-6 months“. The only known deployment of this private military company (PMC) – in Syria in late 2013 – ended up with the mercenaries losing a battle with Al-Qaeda-linked militants, and then falling out with their Syrian paymasters over who was to blame. Utkin’s name did not feature among the known command structure of Slavonic Corps, and the person in charge of the Syrian operation – based on witness statements – appears to have been Vladimir Gusev, deputy director of yet another Hong-Kong-incorporated, but St. Petersburg-run PMC, the Moran Security Group. The Syrian mission ended up in shambles, with Russia’s FSB arresting many of the returning mercenaries and charging them with “unlawful warfare abroad“, the requisite crime for mercenary work which is illegal in Russia.

By early 2014, however, many of the people who were involved with the Slavonic Corps were back in demand. As Russia needed quick – and deniable – military presence in Crimea, the concept of a private, legally unincorporated, shadow army employing skilled soldiers with prior combat experience, appeared to be the perfect solution.

From the data we have reviewed it cannot be determined who came up with the initiative for the Wagner Group. But what is certain is that after successful initial deployment as a deniable Russian military proxy in Crimea and Donbass in 2014, it received a permanent training base at a top-secret GRU facility at the village of Molykino, near Krasnodar, in 2015. Wagner’s largest international deployment so far has been in Syria, where according to a former Wagner officer, at least 2,500 mercenaries were deployed, under the GRU’s and FSB’s supervision, to assist pro-government Syrian forces.

According to a journalistic investigation by the Russian website The Bell, the idea of creating a deniable, “off-balance” private army – and entrusting its logistical operational aspect to Yevgeny Prigozhin – came from high-ranking officers from Russia’s Defense Ministry, after being impressed with a 2010 presentation by Eben Barlow, the founder of the South-Africa-based PMC “Executive Outcomes”. Three different sources are quoted as saying that initially Prigozhin objected to such a high-risk role, but that given his pre-existing service relationship with the Defense Ministry – which provided the cover operation with both an alibi and an existing support infrastructure – he did not have the option to refuse it.

Whether or not the “Wagner Group” was the brainchild of the Russian military establishment or of Prigozhin himself, various digital breadcrumbs corroborate the linkage between his operations and the private military company. These include joint air-travel bookings between Prigozhin employees – including the head of his trolling operation – with known Wagner officers, and the use of at least three companies controlled by Prigozhin as payroll providers for Wagner mercenaries.

GRU In The Driver’s Seat

While Dmitry Utkin has been widely presented as the front man and “principal” for the Wagner PMC, there is ample data suggesting that his role was more of a field commander, and that the “Wagner Group” mercenaries are integrated in an overall chain of command under central Kremlin control with its military intelligence (GU/GRU) apparatus.

In phone intercepts published by Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU), Utkin is heard reporting to a man named Oleg Ivannikov on the progress of military activities in Eastern Ukraine at the time of the battle for Debaltseve in February 2015. Bellingcat has previously identified Ivannikov as a senior GRU officer who helped procure at least one Buk missile system for the militants in Donbass in the days before the downing of MH17. In another intercept from the same period, Utkin is heard reporting to Andrey Troshev, a former police colonel from St. Petersburg. In the call, Utkin despondently complains to Col. Troshev that he has lost count of how many casualties his unit has suffered, and begs to be recalled back to Russia for fear of being killed himself by his own soldiers. A third intercept from early 2015 shows Utkin taking instructions and coordinating the mercenaries’ work directly Maj. General Evgeniy Nikiforov, then chief of staff of the 58th Western Army.

It is clear from the context of the calls that Utkin appears to be subordinated both to GRU’s Ivannikov and overall to the Russian military command, and that Col. Troshev is his superior within the so-called Wagner Group. Not surprisingly, in March 2016 it was namely Col. Troshev who was awarded the Hero of Russia Award for his role as commander of the Wagner Group engaged in supporting government forces in Syria in 2015 and 2016.

Bellingcat has also identified joint airline bookings between Wagner’s commanding officers – including Utkin himself – and active GRU officers. On at least one occasion, Utkin flew in the company of both Troshev and “Andrey Ivanovich Laptev” – the fake identity of GRU’s Gen. Ivannikov.

Dmitry Utkin and Andrey Troshev as co-travelers on a flight between Krasnodar (near the Wagner base) and Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, on 5 June 2015. The two being co-travelers (the field “С кем вместе летит”) indicates their tickets were booked together.

Andrey Laptev (cover identity of GRU officer Oleg Ivannikov), Andrey Troshev, Aleksey Dmitriev (Wagner commander), and Dmitry Utkin on the same flight from Krasnodar to Moscow. There were only ten passengers on this flight, four of whom were tied to Wagner and the GRU.

The Kremlin’s deniability of any formal links to the Wagner Group became famously impossible after Utkin was spotted during a video broadcast from a Kremlin reception held on 9 December 2016. After initially denying any knowledge of Utkin’s existence, Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov ultimately acknowledged he had attended the Heroes of the Fatherland gala event at the Kremlin. Subsequently a VK account focused on mercenary activities published a photograph in which Putin is seen standing next to four heavily – and apparently recently – decorated Wagner officers at a Kremlin function. While there is no public information on when Utkin received his latest award, a Russian website tracking military honors reported that Col. Troshev was given Russia’s highest military honor, the Hero of Russia award, plus a Gold Star order for his military services as a “volunteer” in Syria. The award was reportedly granted through a secret decree signed by Putin on 17 March 2016. The fact that Utkin was not presented with that award (he is seen wearing four Bravery orders, a less exclusive military honor), plus the standing arrangement supports the hypothesis that Utkin is of lesser relevance within the so-called Wagner Group than Col. Troshev.

Vladimir Putin with Col. Andrey Troshev (second from left), sporting a fresh Hero of Russia award, and Col. Dmitry Utkin (far right), wearing four Bravery orders.

Clone Wars

Following this unplanned public appearance, Dmitry Utkin “Wagner” was never seen or heard of in public. A phone number previously used by him is now disconnected. However, travel records reviewed by us show that he continued making rare trips between St. Petersburg and Krasnodar through late 2019.

Despite Dmitry Utkin’s apparent withdrawal from active operational involvement with Wagner activities, his name has not stayed out of focus. A few months after the publication of the Kremlin photograph, in November 2011 a person bearing Utkin’s exact full name was7appointed as CEO of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s flagship catering company, Concord Management and Consulting, a company with nearly $20 million in unconsolidated revenues and controlling a group of companies with nearly 10 times that turnover. When approached by Russian media to comment on Concord’s presumed links to the Wagner Group, Prigozhin responded that “the appointment of Dmitry Utkin – who has never before held any position within our group – is a private personnel decision”, and said he had no knowledge of the existence of a private military company which, he said, “is not even legal under Russian law”.

Prigozhin’s coy response disguised the fact that the Dmitry Valeryevich Utkin in fact appointed as CEO was not the Wagner Group commander. In fact, this Dmitry Utkin was created just a month earlier – through a legal name change (permissible in Russia) of a little-known St. Petersburg resident, eighteen years younger than the original Utkin and having only three months of prior management experience running his own startup company: Alexey Karnaukhov. This fact can be established by the common tax-payer number for the two names – Karnaukhov registered a company under his original name in March 2017, while the cloned “Utkin” was registered as Concord’s CEO under the same tax number in November 2017. On 1 March 2018 – just after the Deir ez-Zor Wagner fiasco – Prigozhin removed the freshly-created Dmitry Utkin from the CEO position and appointed himself instead.

Prigozhin went through this cloning exercise a second time: in early 2018, a former St. Petersburg convict with no prior business experience, Alexander Anufriev, underwent a legal name change, and once again, legally become a Dmitry Valeryevich Utkin. The age difference between the new, third Utkin and the original flagship was only two months, suggesting he may have been more apt to be passed off as the original “Wagner” Utkin. As reported by Russian media, in May 2018 this freshly cloned Utkin incorporated four companies, some of them showing indirect links to Prigozhin’s group. All of these companies were de-registered by 2019. Current Russian debtor databases show that both Utkin clones have unpaid, court-adjudicated debts to third parties, in the case of the latter Utkin – incurred under both his original and new identities.

It is not clear what Prigozhin’s rationale was for causing people to undergo legal name changes to that of the Wagner Group’s public face, and in the first case, flaunting Utkin’s appointment for such a short period of time. Russian media have speculated this may have been a trolling stance of defiance after the US placed both him and Utkin under sanctions over their role in the Ukraine military conflict.

The Colonel is Gone. Long Live the Colonel!

In 2018 and 2019, western and Russian media began reporting on a growing presence of Russian political strategists in various African countries, offering to provide electoral support – including cash, advice and personal protection – to Russia-friendly candidates. An investigation by the independent Russian website Proekt, based on leaked internal documents from a Prigozhin corporate unit “African Back Office”, claimed that as of 2019 Prigozhin had political advisors working in twenty different African states, and had interest in another nineteen. According to Proekt’s analysis of the leaked documents and follow-up interviews with current or former employees, the tasks and scope of work vary greatly by country. In some countries, like Mozambique and the Central African Republic (CAR), the lead role is played by military mercenaries. In others, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Zimbabwe and Madagascar, there were only political strategists, often boosted by the presence of Russian “bodyguards”. In Chad and Benin, Prigozhin’s people work with politicians close to the armed Muslim group Seleka. In some countries, like the CAR and Mozambique, Prigozhin already had business interests in addition to political interference and paramilitary presence.

According to sources interviewed by Proekt, in 2019 Col. Dmitry Utkin had been planning to travel to Rwanda with Valery Zakharov, a Russian security advisor to the President of the Central African Republic. This trip was reportedly cancelled at the last moment. By early 2019 Dmitry Uktin was over-exposed, both due to his presence at the Kremlin gala and through the US sanctions imposed on him. This may have resulted in his withdrawal from the African campaigns.

However, at the same time a different Russian colonel with no media footprint began popping up at different African locations where Russia had dispatched political strategists or security advisers. The colonel, who was known only by his presumed first name “Konstantin”, was spotted initially in Madagascar during the period before the country’s presidential elections in November 2018. He was initially assigned as campaign security chief to an early Russian favorite – Pastor Mailhol of the Madagascar’s Church of the Apocalypse. Mailhol told the BBC that the Russian political strategists who had initially persuaded him to run for president – and had given him suitcases of cash along with a personal bodyguard – ultimately pulled out “Konstantin” from his campaign when a different front-runner emerged. He said they later assigned the Colonel as bodyguard to Andry Rajoelina, who went on to win the election.

The Pastor refused to pull out.

He’d been hearing rumours.

And his Russian bodyguard, Konstantin, had been transferred to the campaign favourite. pic.twitter.com/FDV06LniFM

— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) April 10, 2019

 

“Konstantin” (right), a personal body-guard provided by Russian strategists in September 2018 to an early Russian favorite in the presidential elections. Photo: Screengrab from BBC AfricaEye report.

Pastor Mailhol and the Colonel on the campaign trail in Ambiolobe on 22 October 2018. Photo exclusively obtained by our investigation team.

Madagascar was not the only African country where “Konstantin” has appeared. Leaked emails from employees of Prigozhin’s “African Back Office”, reviewed by our investigation team, show that the same person referred to in correspondence by his nom-de-guerre “Mazay” was stationed in the CAR in the summer of 2018, and returned there after the Madagascar elections. “Mazay” first arrived to the CAR in early July 2018, approximately three weeks before the murder of three Russian journalists on 30 July just outside the town of Sibut. The three journalists had arrived to investigate the role of the Russian mercenaries in the exploitation of local mineral resources. Investigative Journalists digging into the case have found evidence that points to possible Wagner involvement in the murders, but both the CAR and Russian authorities have shown no willingness to investigate this case further.

 “Konstantin”, “The Colonel”, “Mazay”

Leaked back-office emails reviewed by our investigation team do not identify the Colonel by his real name, and only refer to him as “Mazay”. From the context of the correspondence – which only relates to his deployment in the CAR – it is clear that the Colonel was the most important Russian figure on the ground in the republic, and that Russia’s military advisor to the CAR’s president was taking instructions from him. Prigozhin had his own team on the ground in Africa – approximately fifteen individuals with social media, political consultancy or information security backgrounds, all working for a unit referred to in correspondence as “Project Continent”. However, these people all appeared to be taking instructions on ideological matters, countering media leaks and all military matters from “Mazay”. Documents in the emails show that while Valery Zakharov was formally Russia’s military advisor to the CAR’s president, important questions of military relevance were always directed to “Mazay”, who was widely seen by Prigozhin’s team as a representative of the Ministry of Defense, and/or the Kremlin in general. Email exchanges among employees describe “Mazay” as the only person in the CAR who talks with Prigozhin without fear and as an equal.

For example, one email contains an attached scanned letter from local provisional authorities in the town of Bambari addressed to the Commander of the Russian Armed Forces in the South African Republic. The letter, dated 13 May 2019, requests an urgent and private meeting in order to “discuss a particularly delicate situation in the town of Bambari”. The local official, M’Sarvaise-Ildevert, further writes that he would like to pass the Russian military command information about the economic, social and weapons-proliferation crisis caused by “the Mercenaries” on the local population. The author implores that an urgent solution be found jointly during such meeting.

Notably, the email containing the letter says the Russian military command had forwarded to “Mazay” for further action.

It is unclear from the letter if the author requests Russian help to deal with local armed groups, such as the Seleca rebels active in the area, or to raise issues caused namely by Russian mercenaries. Just three months prior to this letter, the United Nations had requested CAR authorities address reports of torture of local Bambari civilians by Russian mercenaries or regular armed forces, including an incident in which a local resident had been strangled with a metal chain and had his finger cut off during interrogations. It is clear, however, that an issue originally referred to the official Russian military command deployed in the CAR was delegated for further action to “Mazay”. This example shows once more the tight integration between the Russian military and the hybrid operations fronted by Prigozhin – including political engineering in Africa, as proven by the role of “Mazay” in the Madagascar election campaign.

Identifying “Mazay”

“Mazay”, also known as “The Colonel” and “Konstantin”, has not been previously identified by any publication and was not identified by name in any of the African back-office correspondences. It appears that his identity was not in fact known to Prigozhin’s Africa-focused employees. “Mazay” was careful to never be captured on camera without his sunglasses on. which made identification via facial recognition search impossible.

In the absence of open-source data to proceed with our investigation, and in order to identify “Mazay”, we obtained and analyzed Russian telephone billing records of Valery Zakharov, Russia’s military advisor to the CAR’s president. Two of the numbers he communicated with in 2019 belonged to a St. Petersburg-based company with the name Military-Security Company “Convoy”. This company was incorporated on 15 January 2015 with an inordinately high share capital – 100 million Russian rubles (approximately $1.5 million USD at the exchange rate of the time). “Convoy” lists its main activity as “providing military security services”. Despite its impressive share capital, the company officially employed only three individuals in 2019, and had a turnover of just over $70,000 USD. The newly-registered company has maintained its cash reserves at over 100 million rubles since its incorporation and to the time of this article’s publication.

The company’s founder was another St. Petersburg legal entity: The St. Petersburg Cossack Association “Convoy” which also boasts “military security services” as its activity. This organization was incorporated in 2009 and has five individual shareholders, one of whom is also the CEO of the Military Security Company “Convoy”. His name is Konstantin Aleksandrovich Pikalov, born on 23 July, 1968.

A search in reverse number-search apps showed that the numbers called by Zakharov and registered to Convoy were in fact used by Konstantin Pikalov.

What’s more, the reverse phone number search app GetContact, which is extremely popular in Russia, provided a number of different ways in which Pikalov’s number had been entered in various users’ contact list. GetContact, along with other apps like TrueCaller, vacuum up their users’ contact books and will publicly list the various names inputted into its users’ phones for an associated phone number. This practice provides researchers with a plethora of names, nicknames, functions, mnemonic devices, and so on, unbeknownst to both the app user and the phone number’s operator. Many of these results displayed entries you would perhaps expect from someone’s cell phone contacts, such as “Konstantin Pikalov” or “Kostya Pikalov”, but also include more personalized names, such as “Ilya’s Uncle Pikalo” and “Neighbor husband Pikalov Konstantin”.

As seen in a screenshot of the GetContact results below, a common thread among many was the use of Mazay, or Mazaev, as his moniker. This finding corroborated our hypothesis that Konstantin from Madagascar and Mazay are the same person. The entries also shine more light onto the nature of Pikalov’s background. He was listed by some as “Pikalov – Private Military Company”, “Konstantin the Cossack”, “Konstantin MDG Mazay” (MDG being a likely reference to Madagascar), and “Ragozin’s Bodyguard”. The latter is likely to be a misspelled reference to Dmitry Rogozin, ex-Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and current head of its space program. Rogozin was sanctioned by the US and EU over his role in the Crimea annexation and war in eastern Ukraine.

Screenshot from the GetContact listings for Konstantin Pikalov’s cell phone number.

To validate our hypothesis that Konstantin Pikalov and the “Colonel”, aka “Mazay”, are the same person, we obtained a passport photo from a source with access to the Russian passport database. While it is not possible to conduct a proper forensic facial comparison given the partial visibility of his face on the African photos, when considering all of the other evidence, we found a sufficiently convincing match of the visible facial features, including ears, nose and skull shape, to conclude that this is the same person.

Who is Konstantin Pikalov

Based on a review of leaked offline databases, until at least 2007 Pikalov served as an officer at Russia’s military unit 99795, located in the village of Storozhevo near St. Peterburg. Russian open sources list this particular base as an experimental unit of the Ministry of Defense, tasked, in part, with “determining the effects of radioactive rays on living organisms”. Following his retirement, Pikalov continued to live on the military base at least until 2012, and ran a private detective agency. In 2016 he ran for office in local council elections in the district of the military base on behalf of the Just Russia, a pro-Kremlin political party. His participation was denied by the Central Election Committee for unknown reasons. However, this may have been the result of a criminal record, as his name is listed in a Central Bank blacklist with a note that he was “a suspect in money laundering”. Pikalov’s current criminal file is blank, which can mean either that the suspicion did not result in actual criminal charges, or that the records have been purged.

Based on reviewed travel records, in 2014 and 2017 Konstantin Pikalov traveled several times to destinations near the Ukraine border, sometimes on joint bookings with known Wagner officers – including with Vadim Gusev, the person who supervised the original Syrian endeavor of Slavonic Corps, and Nikolay Khamatkoev, a known Wagner operative.

“We’re The Dancers”

Pikalov’s international electoral experience does not seem to be limited to the African continent. On 27 September 2014, he flew to Belgrade, Serbia and traveled on to Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He returned via Belgrade on 15 October 2014. During this period, which coincided with the re-election bid of the Kremlin-supported President Dodik, a large group of Cossacks arrived to the small country and loitered around the streets for several weeks in full paramilitary attire. The theatrics of this visit were implausible: an all-male group, 144 strong, had ostensibly arrived to dance at a cultural exchange festival. However the trip was widely seen as an effort to interfere in the elections by suppressing an anti-Dodik vote. The spokesman for the group gave interviews in which he, half-smirking, repeatedly denied that the visitors were Russian Spetznaz. The Cossack group left immediately after the successful reelection of Dodik on 12 October 2014. As we reported in 2017, Konstantin Malofeev traveled to Republica Srpska during the same period and was photographed with Dodik on election day.

While we could not find Konstantin Pikalov in photographs from the 2014 events in Bosnia and Herzegovina (most “dancers” shied away from the cameras, as was reported by local media), his co-shareholder in the Convoy Military Security company, Vasily Yaschikov, did post photographs from Banja Luka.

A year after his trip to Republika Srpska, Pikalov took a twenty-day trip to Kazakhstan beginning on 20 June 2015. He also made a number of trips to Finland and Estonia, possibly to justify his freshly-issued Schengen visa.

 

Col. Konstantin Pikalov, seen getting progressively younger on different passport photos used for various travel documents since 2015

In and Out of Africa

While former employees of Prigozhin’s back office we interviewed on the condition of anonymity told us that “Mazay” was known to have been taken part in military operations in both Ukraine and Syria, we did not find corroborating data in the border crossing or flight records. This, however, does not indicate he did not travel to those destinations, as he would have done so either on military aircraft or by crossing the border with Ukraine illegally.

Pikalov’s first tour in Africa, based on commercial flight records, began on 7 July 2018 with a trip to the Central African Republic by way of Istanbul. It is not clear if and what other countries in Africa he may have visited during this trip, as he returned to Moscow two-and-a-half months later on 28 September 2018 by way of Amsterdam.

He stayed in Russia only two weeks and then returned to Africa for a second tour – this time flying by way of Qatar to Madagascar initially on 9 October 2018. He stayed in Madagascar until at least after the presidential elections in November that year, and returned – likely after spending time in the CAR – to Russia via Paris on 21 January 2019.

Pikalov’s third African tour began on 9 April 2019 and ended on 15 July 2019. During this trip he flew via Qatar and Lisbon, and spent a significant amount of time in the CAR, judging by references to Mazay in the leaked correspondence. His last trip to Africa was the shortest: between 26 November and 7 December 2019. He flew to and back from an unidentified location via Istanbul.

It must be noted that this trip history to Africa may not be exhaustive, as they may exclude flights on military aircraft, which are not subject to the same border-crossing logging as commercial flights.

Flying under the EU Radar

Despite being on the blacklist for money-laundering in Russia, his apparent key role in Russia’s hybrid military-mercenary operations, and interference in elections in Africa and the Balkans, and despite his possible – but not independently investigated – link to the murder of independent Russian journalists, as well as to torture of civilians in Africa, Konstantin Pikalov has been able to traverse Europe unimpeded. In the period 2015 to 2019, Pikalov has received three Schengen visas issued by the Finnish consulate in St. Petersburg, all granted for “tourism purposes”. His latest visa is valid through 16 March 2021. So far he has traveled, on his way to and back from assignments in Africa, via France, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, an arguably more menacing figure in Russia’s hybrid permanent war, is not under any EU sanction. The US indictment against him for fronting the electoral interference in the 2016 US elections has limited his personal travel possibilities. However, his proxies and associates continue unimpeded travel. European businesses continue conducting business with him. Following the US indictment against him and his group of companies, a German business trading with him sent the following email to his secretary:

“From now on, it will be hard to do business with Concord. Please pay future bills from any other unrelated company”

 

In Part 2 of this report, we will investigate Yevgeny Prigozhin’s history of illegally surveilling, threatening and harassing independent journalists, as well as fabricating false narratives to preempt Russian and foreign media’s attempts to peek into his relationship with the Russian military.

The post Putin Chef’s Kisses of Death: Russia’s Shadow Army’s State-Run Structure Exposed appeared first on bellingcat.

Russia Returns To Afghanistan

Back in the 80s the old USSR had this war going on in Afghanistan…..and since it was the Cold War the US would send cash and weapons to the “rebels” that were fighting the Soviets.

Does any of this sound familiar?

In case you are too young to remember anything past the first Iphone….then this should help…..

Or read a history…….https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/08/the-soviet-war-in-afghanistan-1979-1989/100786/

In this conflict the US helped create the Taleban and the Northern Alliance to fight the Soviets….and today we, the US, are fighting the very same group we armed and paid in the past…..

I bring all this up because the Neocons are bitching about the Russians sending aid to the Taleban…..

Hardly a week seems to pass without some new crisis in Russian-American relations. The most recent was the revelation that U.S. President Donald Trump had ignored intelligence about bounties supposedly paid by Russian operatives to the Taliban in exchange for killing American soldiers. The veracity of this particular intelligence is questionable, in my view, but there is plausible evidence that Russia has been providing arms to the Taliban as Moscow seeks to play a more active role in Afghanistan. What to make of this? Some commentators in the U.S., including intelligence analysts and military commanders, see Russia’s policy as primarily aimed at pushing the U.S. out of what Moscow considers its neighborhood. Commenting on the most recent allegations, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff suggested that Russia should be “pushed out of the community of nations.” For Schiff, Russia’s Afghanistan policy is further evidence of a consistent anti-American agenda. This kind of zero-sum thinking says more about the American foreign policy consensus regarding Russia than it does about Russia’s view of the region or of relations with Washington. Russia’s engagement with the Taliban is not, primarily, about punishing the U.S. or getting revenge for Washington’s support to the mujahedeen fighting Soviet troops in the 1980s. Rather, Moscow is pursuing a pragmatic policy aimed at securing stability and security in Central Asia. 

https://www.russiamatters.org/analysis/russian-moves-afghanistan-are-about-regional-stability-not-revenge-us

This is all so silly….the Neocons are all up in arms because Russia is aiding the Taleban……think about that for just a moment……

This illustrates the hypocrisy of American foreign policy….the arrogance….”we can do it but no one else can”

I wish that we could find a new foreign policy….but sadly little will change with the next election.

I Read, I Write, You Know

“lego ergo scribo”

The Cult Of Robert E. Lee

These days of re-thinking the Civil War there is one that seems to have this whole cult around him….that is Gen. Robert E. Lee, commanding general of the Confederate Forces.

It is fascinating, at least to me, that a traitor like Benedict Arnold is hated and a traitor like Lee is deified…..and believe me….in the South Lee is deified.

How did this whole cult spring up around Lee?

The reason the South fought the American Civil War has been contested ever since the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. An odd turn of events, considering that when 11 Southern states seceded from the Union at the war’s outset, they were very clear about why they were doing it.

In declaration after declaration, Confederate states explicitly said that they had seceded in order to preserve slavery.

South Carolina, the first to secede, cited “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery” in its declaration of secession. Mississippi’s declaration argued “There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union.” 

It was only after the war that many former Confederates changed course, creating an alternative narrative that historians refer to as the “Lost Cause.”

https://www.history.com/news/how-the-cult-of-robert-e-lee-was-born

Lost Cause….something I have also written about…..read it for yourself…….

Did Lee commit treason?

Led an armed rebellion against the government and person of the United States of America……then YES HE WAS!

In case you are interested…..https://athenaeumreview.org/essay/did-robert-e-lee-commit-treason/

More on the actions of Lee……

Robert E. Lee was a great “American” general, who attended West Point, led American soldiers to victory as a commander in the Mexican War and was beloved by his men

Until 1862, that is, when he turned traitor and gave up his commission in the US Army for a stint as commanding general of the “Confederate States of America” after South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina in April 1861, as an act of war. A devoted son of Virginia, Lee returned home and took up arms against the United States of America whose Constitution he had sworn to protect and defend.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/trumps-great-general-robert-e-lee-was-a-traitor-and-a-bad-person

To be fair I offer this short video that tries to refute the idea…..

Lee IMO was a bigger traitor than Arnold…..but that is the post for a rainy day.

Learn Stuff!

I Read, I Write, You Know

“lego ergo scribo”

Out of the Darkness

WE get enough negative images around these protests…the violence, brutality and destruction and thanx to a loyal reader Kim we now have some positive images of Americans showing their compassion….thanx Kim. chuq

By Hook Or By Book

Genesee County, Michigan Sheriff Chris Swanson joining protesters.

I know so many of us have been transfixed by the horrifying images over the last few days of violence and destruction, as some peaceful protests have turned into rioting. And then of course there were the lovely images from last night of military police and soldiers firing rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protesters in front of the White House so the “Law and Order President“ and “ally of peaceful protesters” could have a photo-op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church. But I’d like to call your attention to some images from around the country that aren’t getting as much attention.

315CF9FF-EC0C-4AA7-A9AC-17AED52C7EE6

Camden New Jersey

7DBB1AE3-9F6C-4F1B-B3A0-CFD0804D728E

Houston, Texas

DE6A03E8-E6CA-489E-B50F-B8D78ADA3482

Santa Cruz, California

31E94D2D-44BE-47D5-8459-CA97B7C9C905

Coral Gables, Florida

21F3BF2E-DEE3-4D05-95FF-A4F8814F3B31

Ferguson, Missouri

26C8196B-6F81-482A-9B51-A8660DCF5090

Fargo, North Dakota

C8C55570-1372-428D-A525-5B8ED13960D8

Kansas City, Missouri

6A70CAAF-F784-40F7-B25D-A92007979ED9

Black protesters protecting a white police officer who got separated from his unit in Louisville, Kentucky

E3C27A58-B2DD-4A2E-9C8B-08145BD9C316

Protesters forming a…

View original post 28 more words

The Invasion of Venezuela, Brought To You By Silvercorp USA

The video begins with Jordan Goudreau posing confidently, flanked by a man wearing an armour plate and a Venezuela flag wrapped around his shoulder. The man introduces Goudreau in a stern tone. Goudreau begins to speak with the terseness of a battle-hardened warrior as he confirms that an amphibious operation into Venezuela is underway. Goudreau begins by saying:

At 1700 hours, a daring amphibious raid was launched from the border of Colombia deep into the heart of Caracas. Our men are continuing to fight right now. Our units have been activated in the south, east and west of Venezuela. Commander Nieto is with me—is co-located—and commander Sequea is on  the ground now, fighting. 

It is the afternoon of Sunday, May 3, 2020, and Goudreau is confirming that a botched attempt to infiltrate Venezuela with a team of expatriate soldiers (and later, two U.S. citizens) on a hopeless mission to topple the government of President Nicolas Maduro is his doing. By the time the video was first shared on Twitter, eight of Goudreau’s men were dead and two others captured as the boat they were on was intercepted at sea by the Venezuelan authorities. A second boat, soon on its way to Venezuela, would also be intercepted at sea the following day, resulting in the capture of eight of Goudreau’s men, including two American citizens.

Over a period of 48 hours starting on the morning of May 3, Goudreau’s Silvercorp USA would-be mercenary force would make headlines across the world as the spectacular failure of the operation came to light. 

Mr. Goudreau Goes To Colombia

Goudreau’s name appeared in relation to Venezuela on May 1, in an article published by the Associated Press. The article outlines Goudreau’s involvement in a far-fetched scheme to help raise a mercenary army with Cliver Alcalá, a former major general in the Venezuelan army and lifelong supporter of former president Hugo Chavez who had been living in exile in Colombia since 2018. 

The article explains that the goal of this force would be to infiltrate Venezuela and spark a rebellion that would topple Maduro from power. Under the best light, the article paints Goudreau, a former U.S. Army special forces operative and three-time Bronze Star recipient, as a misguided entrepreneur who saw an opportunity to make a lot of money for Silvercorp USA, his private security company, by signing a contract with the Venezuelan opposition to train Alcalá’s men. As the article makes clear, the plot was so far-fetched that opposition leader Juan Guaido’s intermediates eventually cut contact with him, and some who knew Goudreau in Colombia said that he was “in way over his head” (the article is jaw-dropping and you should read it).

Goudreau featured on the Silvercorp USA home page (Source: Silvercorpusa.com)

Aside from introducing Goudreau and his misadventures in Colombia to the world, the article brought to light the plot that he and Alcalá had plotted to infiltrate Venezuela with former Venezuelan soldiers. There is evidence that the Venezuelan government was aware of the plot as early as March 24, but if they had been blind to the scheme, they would have found out about it in the article on May 1. And, with Alcalá in detention in the United States on drug trafficking charges since late March, any move now, when he had maximum visibility, would have been ill-advised for Goudreau.

Yet that’s when these just slightly amphibious raids began.

Silvercorp USA And Jordan Goudreau

Goudreau’s Florida-based private security firm, Silvercorp USA, was established in March 2018, just weeks after the Parkland school shooting that left 17 dead and another 17 wounded. The first Instagram posts from Silvercorp USA show a bizarre montage of school shootings, followed by a narration from Goudreau.

Goudreau, speaking over B-roll footage and clips of the aftermath of school shootings, describes how Silvercorp provides training to law enforcement and teachers to respond to active school shooters. Silvercorp later expanded its ambitions to “embed counter-terror agents in schools disguised as teachers” (their “School Protection Solution”), provided “private security” in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, and apparently worked as security at Trump rallies. In a video on the Silvercorp website, Goudreau can be seen wearing an earpiece and apparently providing security at a Trump rally in Charlotte, NC at Bojangles Coliseum from October 26, 2018:

An Instagram post from Silvercorp also shows Goudreau at this rally, with the geotag of Charlotte, NC: 

Goudreau is visible in videos showing the rally, walking the aisles behind Trump during his speech:

Silvercorp USA also apparently provided security for a Trump rally in Houston on October 22, 2018, but there are no clear photographs showing Goudreau at work.

All of this does not mean that Goudreau is part of the Secret Service. Trump famously employs private security for himself and during his rallies, and Silvercorp were likely contracted for this rally in Charlotte.

Goudreau and Silvercorp likely provided security at other Trump rallies, including one in Pennsylvania on 10 March 2018. If you can spot Goudreau or other Silvercorp staff providing security at a Trump rally, please send your findings in the comments, or tweet at us.

Operation Gedeon, Or Goudreau’s Boat People

In the early morning hours of Sunday, May 3, reports began to surface on Twitter of military activity out at sea off the coast of Macuto, a small city on Venezuela’s coast just north of Caracas. In one video shot before the sun had come up, a man films what looks like police vessels out at sea. There is a helicopter flying the area, and gunshots can be heard.

Shortly after 7:30 AM, Minister of the Interior Nestor Reverol gave a televised address during which he said that “terrorist mercenaries” had attempted a “maritime invasion” of the country, and that they had come from Colombia. Shortly thereafter, news would break that eight of the men on the boat had been killed and two had been captured alongside weapons and equipment:

Images of some of the equipment and weapons seized in the Macuto operation (Source: @RCamachoVzla)

The news from Minister Reverol was received with a healthy dose of skepticism by many Venezuelans, given the Maduro government’s long track record of blaming everything from power outages to its financial woes on the Colombian government.

All doubts about the veracity of the Maduro government’s claims regarding the failed incursion were laid to rest in the afternoon when a Venezuelan digital news outlet (@FactoresdePoder) published a video in which Goudreau claimed responsibility for the “amphibious raid”, and hinted that other operations were ongoing. Goudreau was joined by a man calling himself Javier Quintero Nieto, who said that the goal of the operation was to detain the leadership of the Maduro government and liberate the country’s political prisoners.

Goudreau and Quintero appeared in a video claiming responsibility for the failed raid on Sunday, May 4 (Source: @FactoresdePoder)

The same news outlet shared images of a contract that appears to have been signed by both Goudreau (on behalf of Silvercorp) and opposition leader Juan Guaido on October 16, 2019 — worth a staggering $212.9 million dollars. Pages 1 out of 8 and 8 out of 8 are missing from the set that the outlet shared, and so we do not know for certain every piece of information that was included in this document, including exactly what services Silvercorp would provide.

Images of an alleged contract between Silvercorp and the Venezuelan opposition leader worth $212.9 million for undisclosed services (Source: @FactoresdePoder)

Shortly thereafter, Goudreau was interviewed by Venezuelan journalist Patricia Poleo for Factores de Poder. In the bizarre interview, Goudreau said that despite having signed a contract with Guaido, “the opposition hurt us more than they helped us” in part because they never paid him. Goudreau said that the opposition failed to even pay him the $1.5 million retainer that he had asked for, but that he nevertheless decided to continue to render the services of his company because he is a “freedom fighter” and “this is what [freedom fighters] do.”

When he was pressed by Poleo to explain why launching an amphibious operation across open waters instead of attempting to infiltrate via the border with Colombia, Goudreau replied:

Are you familiar with Alexander the Great? The Battle of Gaugamela. Completely outnumbered. He struck to the heart of the enemy, and he won.

Goudreau ended the interview by saying that there were more “cells” active in the country, that the operation was ongoing, and that he was in communication with people inside the country who were telling him that they wanted to join the rebellion that he was attempting to start.

Airan And Luke

On the evening on Sunday, May 3, the Silvercorp Twitter account tweeted that a “strikeforce incursion” into Venezuela was still underway despite the losses earlier that day. The tweet also revealed that two members of this strike force were U.S. citizens, while also trying to get the attention of U.S. President Donald Trump:

Confirmation of the participation of two U.S. citizens in the operation came from the @Carive15 Twitter account, which Javier Quintero confirmed is the official portal of the operation. The account tweeted out an image of three haggard-looking men aboard a boat, two of whom are looking at the camera:

The tweet reads: “An allied unit has fallen. The BRAVE NORTH AMERICAN ALLIES LUKE AND AARON [sic] have just been arrested by the NARCO-REGIME. They are more Venezuelan than any coward from the regime. (Picture taken at 7:30 AM [and shared via] satellite communication) (Source: @Carive15)

The men also appeared in images shared by the Venezuelan authorities after their capture, including in this video which shows some of the captured would-be infiltrators.

Speaking during a televised address on Monday, May 4, Maduro showed the passports and other pieces identification of the pair. Screenshots of that section of his speech were shared by @TeleSurEnglish. These pieces of identification show that the men’s names are Luke Alexander Denman and Airan Berry.

Four screenshots from Maduro’s May 4 address showing some of the Luke and Airan’s identification (Source: @Telesurenglish)

Diosdado Cabello, the vice president of the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela(PSUV), shared a video on his Twitter account on the afternoon of May 4, showing Adolfo Baduel, one of the men captured alongside Denman and Berry. In the video, Baduel says that he was accompanied by two U.S. citizens who said that they “work with the chief of security of Donald Trump”, seemingly confirming Silvercop USA’s previous work as security at Trump rallies.

Unfinished Business

The afternoon of May 3 ended with the Venezuelan government claiming to have arrested two more individuals in connection to “Operacion Gedeon”, this time on land in the city of Puerto la Cruz. The two men were allegedly arrested alongside a cache of equipment related to the operation, including armor plates and communications equipment. @RCamachoVzla tweeted some images of the haul:

Images of some of the equipment seized in Puerto La Cruz (Source: @RCamachoVzla)

One image in particular raised many more questions than it answered, as it shows an Airsoft rifle:

An Airsoft rifle pictured among the cache of equipment captured by the Venezuelan authorities in Puerto La Cruz (note the orange tip). Note also an Amazon Kindle among the equipment that was seized (Source: @RCamachoVzla)

The logo on the weapon appears to be associated with the G&G Airsoft company as seen in this promotional video (kudos to Twitter user @AbraxasSpa for making this connection):

A logo on the weapon (Source: @RCamachoVzla)

 

The G&G Airsoft logo (Source: YouTube)

In an interview published on May 4, Javier Quintero claimed that “Operacion Gedeon” was still ongoing despite its early losses, and that there were more teams inside and outside Venezuela “awaiting instructions”. He acknowledged Goudreau’s participation in the operation. As of publication, there have been no new reports of arrests or any other action related to this operation. 

President Maduro claimed in a televised speech on the night of May 4 that the involvement of U.S. citizens in the plot to overthrow him was evidence that the Trump administration was directly involved in the plan. There have been no public comments on these unfolding events from the U.S. government so far.

The post The Invasion of Venezuela, Brought To You By Silvercorp USA appeared first on bellingcat.

IJPC Wins Lawsuit Against Ohio BMV

Court Rules in Favor of Local U.S. Citizens and Documented Immigrant Youth: Granting Equal Access to Driver’s Licenses and Ohio IDs

CINCINNATI, OH – On Wednesday, February 26, 2020 members and supporters of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center (IJPC) gathered alongside Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) to celebrate a federal district court judge’s decision to block a discriminatory policy enacted by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) that denied driver’s licenses and Ohio identification cards to 16- and 17-year olds with foreign-born parents because of their parents’ immigration status.

“We take for granted how much power a driver’s license grants you, to be able to move freely and go about your life,” shared Allison Reynolds-Berry, executive director of IJPC.

IJPC and six individual plaintiffs filed a class action complaint against the BMV in October of 2018 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Eastern Division. The lawsuit was brought by ABLE, a nonprofit law firm, and Porter Wright, on behalf of IJPC and the plaintiffs, after IJPC learned that members of their Youth Educating Society (YES) program were being unlawfully turned away by the BMV. It was discovered that U.S. citizens and documented immigrant youth who were otherwise eligible for a driver’s license were being denied because BMV policy stated that their undocumented parents cannot serve as cosigners on the minor’s applications because they didn’t have a U.S. issued ID.

IJPC’s Youth Educating Society program empowers immigrant youth and allies through support and education to cultivate social and legislative change for a more inclusive and just society. One YES leader, Karina, boldy shared her story as one of the main plaintiffs on this case. She shared, “I called my cousin and I told him the news. The reaction on his face was priceless. It seemed as if wings had regrown on him. He’s sixteen and now he’s able to get his driver’s license and so will his siblings.”

This ruling will grant an estimated 3,000+ U.S. citizen or documented non-citizen children living in Ohio the ability to drive.

“Going forward the BMV will not be able to require that parents present proof of lawful presence in order to cosign their children’s driver’s license applications,” said Emily Brown, co-counsel from ABLE. She continued, “The ability to drive…especially in a state of Ohio with limited public transportation is fundamental to accessing many human rights like working, attending school, caring for family members and obtaining medical care.”

ABLE also received a ruling on a related lawsuit filed on behalf of three other plaintiffs, including Community Refugee and Immigration Services, a refugee resettlement agency in Columbus.

That related ruling overturns another BMV policy, which effectively denied licenses to lawfully admitted refugees if those refugees have not adjusted their status to lawful permanent residence within two years of their arrival in the U.S.

For additional information, contact Allison Reynolds-Berry, allison@IJPCcincinnati.org, (513)579-8547 office (630)336-0041 cell.

The post IJPC Wins Lawsuit Against Ohio BMV appeared first on IJPC | Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center | Cincinnati Ohio.

VKontakte vs. Facebook: From Open White Supremacy To Stealth

Fascist and white nationalists wear masks and try to hide while attempting to spread hate and pretend to be bold

In March of 2019, Facebook banned white nationalist and white separatist statements from its platform. White supremacism had been forbidden for some time, but last year’s Christchurch massacre seems to have convinced the social network that a more aggresively anti-racist approach was necessary. This ban is not comprehensive, and there are numerous holes in enforcement. This article is about one such hole: the vibrant community of American racists who “hide their power level” just enough to avoid being banned, while subtly pushing their views on friends and family.

These white supremacists are not particularly coy about their tactics. They plot out in the open, on VKontakte (commonly abbreviated as VK), a Facebook-like popular Russian social medial platform that has much looser moderation. Here’s Kevin Beair, Exalted Cyclops for the Keystone States chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, explaining how “public outreach” for the racist cause can be done on Facebook:

“…get on facebook and post links on small tv stations to soft-right stuff to pull people in our direction…the cool thing about facebook is you can reach people nationwide… nothing stops you from posting on a small town local tv stations facebook page 3,000 miles away… i think i’m the only one who does this… just don’t get carried away and let yourself get banned by calling blacks monkeys like ive done several times.”

We have been unable to locate Kevin’s current Facebook profile. But his VK activity gives hints as to his life on Facebook. Kevin suggests posting content from several “soft-right” sources in order to push white Facebook users in more extreme directions. One such source is Colin Flaherty, a writer with WorldNetDaily who helped popularize the “Knockout Game”, a myth that groups of teens — generally understood to be black teens — were randomly assaulting American adults. 

Flaherty’s goal seems to be popularizing stories of black people assaulting white people. His book, White Girl Bleed A Lot, makes the case that black mob violence is a massive and growing threat to American white people. It contains numerous basic factual errors, but the book’s Facebook page is at least modestly popular:

On January 20, 2020, Beair wrote on his VK account that he was banned from posting on the Virginia Citizen Defense League Facebook page (The VCDL is the group that organized the gun rights rally in Richmond, Virginia on that same day). Beair shared the BitChute video he published, called, “New Confederate.” He asserted that the Second Amendment rights battle in Virginia was racially and ethnically motivated and directly cited George Lincoln Rockwell (GLR) the original founder of the American Nazi Party. 

The following day, Beair guided his VK followers, instructing them what to post in the Virginia Citizen Defense  League Facebook group. His content again focuses on pushing the idea that a “black on white” crime wave is sweeping the nation. 

This claim is wildly innaccurate: 82% of white American murder victims are murdered by other white Americans. But the idea that black-on-white violence is an epidemic is enormously powerful to racists. It was this belief that inspired Dylann Roof to murder nine black people at a Charleston church. 

We know that Kevin Beair considers this myth to be well-worth spreading in his efforts to “red-pill” people on Facebook. Unfortunately for us, Kevin’s actual Facebook account remains hidden for the time being. But many of his colleagues have been less careful and, by monitoring their activity on both VK and Facebook, we can put together a catalogue of their attempts to mainstream racial extremism on the world’s largest social network. 

Daniel Burnside: White & Proud On Facebook, Vicious Nazi On VK

Daniel Burnside has several dozen Facebook friends and does not outwardly advertise his Nazi ideology; however, his byline reads, “white and proud.” As is shown below, Burnside “likes” a handful of “White Lives Matter” pages. Burnside’s activity has been documented by the media and he is a known personality and active member of the National Socialist party. He hosts monthly meetings at his Ulysses Pennsylvania home for the NSM 2 chapter.


The above images feature a mix of likes for non-political pages, including McDonalds and The Grizzled (a car-focused clickbait site), along with numerous “White Lives Matter” pages. Because Burnside declares himself “White & Proud,” we know he is a white supremacist, but his content on Facebook evidently stays just shy of crossing the line that will get him banned. 

Indeed, extremists have found numerous ways to get around Facebook bans. As documented by Buzzfeed, when the Proud Boys were banned from the social network following a series of assaults in 2018, they were able to return to the service by using names like “PB Canada” instead of “Proud Boys Canada”. Only very slight amounts of obfuscation are necessary to fool Facebook’s censors. 

Daniel’s wife Sabrina, for example, has a Facebook account that has so far avoided a ban. It is filled with photos of the couple’s nine children, and her byline reads, “Married, White, Straight Momma of 9 Beautiful babies. I live the 14 words to the fullest every day”. 14 words is a reference to the popular white supremacist slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”. It should be noted that, as of this writing, Sabrina’s VK profile is unavailable and a message reads that her account was removed due to violating VK’s policies.

In a May 26, 2019 Facebook post, Sabrina shared a welcome sign which her woodworker husband made for the Ulysses Area Improvement committee. A casual bystander might assume that the Burnsides are a typical suburban family who make positive contributions to their local community without realizing that this family of active Neo-Nazis advocate for racial extermination, no matter how coy they are about their agenda. 

On Facebook, Daniel regularly posts content that would be acceptable to mainstream conservatives, including this picture below. The banner on it reads, “I support the border wall.” 

A sizeable majority of mainstream Republicans support substantial barriers on the southern border of the U.S. However, Daniel’s VK posts make it clear that he supports the wall for reasons of white separatism, to ensure white children grow up in a “safe White nation.” 

Daniel’s Facebook lists his job as “self employed woodcutter”, but his VK profile states that he is employed by the National Socialist Movement. His profile picture features him standing in front of a Nazi flag hanging from his house. His byline reads, “NSM Region 2 Director and Radio host of NSM 101.” 

On Facebook, the Burnsides post wholesome family photos of their children which appear to be professionally taken. On VK, their profiles contain images of their children posing with Nazi regalia.

Facebook

Facebook

Facebook

VKontakte

VKontakte

VKontakte

When we add it all up, we see that Daniel Burnside presents his family as wholesome, normal middle-class Americans on Facebook. They show themselves as being active members of their community, who participate in youth sports and volunteer. They express white pride on Facebook but not explicit racism. This may simply be done to avoid running afoul of Facebook’s restrictions. 

It is also possible that family members have taken a page out of Kevin Beair’s book, and their strategy is more subtle; this may be part of a long game to convince their neighbors that someone can be “white and proud” but not a racist. As long as the swastika-drenched reality stays off Facebook, they have a good chance to do just that.

Christopher Gonynor: “Third Positionist” On Facebook, Nazi On VK

On Facebook, Christopher Gonynor doesn’t post many items relating to his ideological beliefs, although he labels himself as a Catholic Third Positionist on his byline. The Third Position  is a neo-fascist political ideology that tends to favor reactionary right-wing cultural views and radical left-wing economic views. Gonynor has posts about his girlfriend, photos of food, and memes.

His views are softened on the platform, whereas on VK, he states that he belongs to the American Fascist Party and that he is a former Patriot Front member. The Patriot Front  is an American white supremacist, neo-Nazi, and neo-fascist group.

Gonynor’s VK profile picture shows him signaling the OK sign, which has been co-opted by white supremacists as a hate symbol.

Gonynor’s VK profile also includes numerous Swastika and SS runes, the phrase “Blut und ehre” (Blood and Honor, a Hitler Youth slogan), and the acronym FGRN, a KKK slogan meaning “For God, Race and Nation.”

On December 22, 2019, he posted a graphic of Hitler, writing, “Long live the third reich my white brothers and sisters!”

On December 4, 2019, Gonynor posted a graphic image of an African American who was lynched for voting, and added, “Reject Modernity, embrace tradition 14/88“. The number 14 refers to the white supremacist slogan as explained above, while 88 refers to heil Hitler, since the letter “h” is the 8th letter of the alphabet.

Gonynor’s Facebook profile gives almost no hint of these beliefs, and it is entirely possible that they are hidden from many of his friends and family. He had a “hentaigrind” band, Vulgar Lacerations, that does not seem to have been Nazi-inspired. His girlfriend posts regularly about her love of K-Pop and Adventure Time; the family who comment on his posts do not express extreme racism. Like David, Chris peppers his feed with relatively mainstream conservative memes:

On Facebook, Gonynor does directly reference the Third Reich, but carefully. At one point, his cover photo was one of Adolph Hitler’s old paintings, and he seems to enjoy posting illustrations of Wehrmacht tanks. With Christopher’s page we again see exterminationist racism covered up just enough to hide in plain sight. 

Alicia Ciamaricone: Etsy Vendor And Animal Lover On Facebook, Hitler Fangirl On VK

Alicia Ciamaricone goes by the name “Alicia InkedPrincess Ciamaricone” on Facebook. Her account contains innocuous content where she shows off her tattoos and her Etsy wares, as well as raises funds for animal causes.

For example, on November 28, 2019, Ciamaricone was promoting a fundraising event for a senior dog sanctuary.


Unlike the other subjects of this article, Ciamaricone provides very few even vague signs of her true beliefs on Facebook. She seems to be a perfectly normal woman with goth-y aesthetic preferences and a small Etsy side business. But on VK, Ciamaricone freely expresses her affinity for National Socialism.

On May 7, 2019, she posted an image in the likeness of Adolf Hitler which reads, “he was right.”

On January 5, 2019, Ciamaricone posted a graphic promoting the fourteen words:

While neo-Nazis like Kevin Beair are quite overt about their desire to convert people using Facebook, there is no evidence that Ciamaricone and the other racists in this article are part of an organized effort to mainstream white supremacy. What we have documented in this article is more than likely a decentralized, acephalous effort to normalize racial hatred and extremist ideology. 

The fact that there is no single organization behind it does not make this effort less dangerous. In fact, it makes it harder to combat. Algorithms can be trained to search for phrases like “14 words”, but Nazis are more than capable of inventing new terms in order to evade bans. The fact that there is no central structure to this effort means that only knowledgeable human beings can reliably sleuth out white supremacists. There are no automated shortcuts to dealing with this problem, which makes it less likely to be dealt with at all. 

Ciamaricone may just be a Nazi who likes to keep her racism and her mainstream persona separate. Perhaps she has no plans to convert or radicalize her friends. Or, perhaps, her relatively placid Facebook presence is merely her “testing the waters” before introducing more of her true beliefs to the people outside her circle. 

That may be true of hundreds or thousands of other Facebook users. We know this because folks like Kevin Beair, as quoted in the beginning of this article, say it quite plainly, and we can watch it working every day. Beair’s fiance, Lauren Magdaleno, for example, feels comfortable openly identifying as a National Socialist on Facebook.

Despite Facebook’s policies, Lauren Magdaleno feels secure posting content that, at the very least, verges on outright white supremacy. It is not hard to find other users who enthusiastically share her feelings. 

On Facebook, Magdaleno feels safe expressing casual anti-Semitism… 

…and even fundraising directly for neo-Nazi Ted Dunn, leader of the “SS Action Group”.

This apparently does not violate Facebook’s policies against white supremacy, and it is very difficult to tell where the social network’s line even is. Would Lauren have violated their guidelines if she’d gone into more detail about why she supports this man? We don’t know. But we can see that she is much more expressive about this issue on VK:

On Facebook, Magdaleno’s explicit white supremacist beliefs co-exist with a perfectly milquetoast assortment of more mainstream memes; jokes about the coronavirus, Jeffrey Epstein, and the recent Iranian crisis. More than anything, Magdaleno’s account suggests that her fellow Nazis are working way too hard to hide from Facebook. You can apparently raise funds for Neo-Nazi activists and call yourself a National Socialist without being declared a “white supremacist.”

This, for the Nazis, has been the goal all along. 

The post VKontakte vs. Facebook: From Open White Supremacy To Stealth appeared first on bellingcat.

In Kerala, millions of people form a human chain to protest India’s “anti-muslim” citizenship laws

“The citizenship law will endanger the constitution and destroy peace”

Screenshot from YouTube Video by indusdotnews.

Human Chain in Kerala. Screenshot from YouTube Video by indusdotnews.

On 26 January, on the Republic Day of India, several millions of people formed a 620 km human chain from the north to the south of Kerala demanding the withdrawal of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA) promulgated in December 2019 provides a path to citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants from the neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. However, it has drawn criticism from civil society organizations and the opposition for unfairly excluding Muslims. The Citizenship Amendment Act, combined with the nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), is deemed to be disastrous, not only for the minority Muslims, but also all other Indians.

The human chain event was organised by Left Democratic Front (LDF), a coalition of left-wing political parties led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its leader, the Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan.

Another Human chain is going to be created by the Malayalis in Kerala on our Republic Day,2020.

This human chain will be 620 km long to show the protest against #CAA_NRC_NPR and other unconstitutional activities of Sanghis.

From Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram.#CAA_NRCProtests pic.twitter.com/Rb0MANTJXc

— Debasish Paul (@ComradeDebasish) January 25, 2020

Note: Malaylalis = People from Kerala speaking the Malayalam language. Sanghis = Followers of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organisation.

The crowd included politicians, cultural activists, religious leaders, artists and concerned citizens. Social media accounts were flooded with colorful images and videos from the protest:

A view from the 620 km long human chain in Kerala to protest against the anti constitutional CAA, NRC & NPR and ‘Hum Dekhenge’ in Malayalam in the background.

Let our PM identity all these people by their dresses 🙂
pic.twitter.com/N9exiGsooa

— Ravi Nair (@t_d_h_nair) January 26, 2020

Note: “Hum Dekhenge” = We will see.

The Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan joined the protests and said in a statement:

The citizenship law will endanger the Constitution and destroy peace in the country since their (the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s) intention is to destroy secularism. We have already declared that Kerala is not the place to accept the new citizenship regime.

He also shared this tweet:

Kerala, in essence, is an argument for equality. The people of this land are unapologetically secular. The #KeralaHumanChain of today is yet another example for our unity. This battle, we will not rest and we shall overcome.#HumanChain pic.twitter.com/W3Hprr7E8t

— Pinarayi Vijayan (@vijayanpinarayi) January 26, 2020

Stand up in any way you can. It’s necessary#NoCAANoNRC

PHOTOS: Newlyweds, Young Children Take Part In Kerala’s Human Chain Against CAA https://t.co/fhGy6zEAm3

— Riddhi Doshi (@riddhi09) January 29, 2020

From their Wedding to the 620 km human chain —-

formed in Kerala demanding withdrawal of CAA.#शाहीन_बाग_से_हिलती_सरकार pic.twitter.com/4rHfwRA3EA

— FAISAL ALAM🇮🇳 (@FAISALALAM832) January 27, 2020

The Kerala human chain was not allowed to break even in backwaters. Such is the devotion towards constitution. pic.twitter.com/TASApYuqIk

— Ramesh_India (@CommonManInd65) January 28, 2020

Thousands of people formed an 11km long human chain in Kolkata, the capital of the state of West Bengal on the same day.

#Kolkata . This human chain goes 11 kms to Golpark from Shyambazar Against NRC/CAA/NPR. pic.twitter.com/Yj40ArgKFd

— Dibyendu (@Dibyend48970765) January 26, 2020

Republic Day honours the date (26 January 1950) on which the Constitution of India came into effect and turned the nation into a newly formed republic. On this day, India saw protests across the country that accuse the CAA of being detrimental to a key component of the constitutional value system — envisioning a secular India.

Protest against CAA/NRC/NPR in india in 56 cities on Republic Day #शाहीन_बाग_से_हिलती_सरकार pic.twitter.com/XqtXuNRent

— Aamir Siddiqui (@AamirSi11033884) January 27, 2020

🔸Lakhs in a Human Chain in Kerala

🔸11km Human Chain in Kolkata

🔸Republic Day celebrations in Shaheen Bagh

🔸Dalit & Adivasi march in Bengaluru

Anti-CAA-NRC movement grows bigger & bigger. Modi would be tired of seeing pics & identifying crores of people by their clothes 😄pic.twitter.com/9wxWADKlW0

— Srivatsa (@srivatsayb) January 27, 2020

Read our special coverage: Who is paying the cost of India’s declining democracy? for more details on the protests against the citizenship laws in India.

Written by Rezwan · comments (0)
Donate
· Share this: twitter facebook reddit googleplus

The War Trade: How Italy Sold Armoured Vehicles To Russia + Their Deployment With Syrian Army Militias

These findings were made by Benjamin Strick, Leone Hadavi and Bashar Deeb and are a result of a year-long investigation stemming from the EU Arms Project, an investigative collaboration between Bellingcat and Lighthouse Reports. Special thanks to Francesca Costantini who helped us analyse Italian Government reports. 

There is a direct prohibition against supplying arms to Russia due to sanctions imposed following its attacks on Ukraine. Italy, however, has supplied Iveco Light Multirole Vehicles (LMVs) to the Russian Defense Ministry after these sanctionatory measures were established. 

Meanwhile, the EU Common Position calls for Member States to

  1. Deny an export licence if there is a clear risk that the military technology or equipment to be exported might be used for internal repression;
  2. Exercise special caution and vigilance in issuing licenses, on a case-by-case basis […], to countries where serious violations of human rights have been established by the competent bodies of the United Nations, by the European Union or by the Council of Europe;

We have geolocated these vehicles being used, on multiple occasions, within the context of the war in Syria. These were not only operated by Russian military personnel but in some cases also embedded with and/or diverted to local Syrian militia leaders who are under EU sanctions for their responsibility in human rights abuses.

In this report, using open source evidence, we will show:

  • What is the Italian Iveco LMV
  • How did it get to Syria from Russia
  • Where and When the Iveco LMV was being used in Syria
  • Who are the EU-sanctioned Syrian militia leaders using the Iveco LMV; and
  • Why transactions for the sale of these arms appear to be anomalous.

1. What Is The Iveco Light Multirole Vehicle?

The Iveco LMV (image above from Iveco site), known as “Lince” (Lynx) in Italy, is an off-road capable IED-resistant modular vehicle for transporting troops with a range of different protection levels and armament configurations depending on versions.

2. How The Iveco Got To Syria From Russia

Transport was effected in two ways, by air and by sea. In this footage, the Iveco LMVs are transported with Russian sappers to Syria. The footage can be geolocated to Chkalovsiy Airport in Schyolkovo, Moscow, filmed from here.

The Iveco LMVs rolled off the plane at Syria’s Hmeimim Air Base here.

By sea, Iveco LMVs can be seen passing through the Bosphorus on Russian Navy vessel BSF Saratov (#150) here. Deliveries were also made by BSF Orsk (#148), spotted crossing the Bosphorus reportedly on its way to Syria on at least one occasion, in April 2018, carrying an Iveco LMV, as shown here.

Some of the Iveco LMVs have been spotted at the Port of Tartus in Syria, here.

Of the Iveco LMVs seen in the delivered vehicles above, one has plate number 1100YO94.

The plate number of this Iveco LMV matches the plate number of the Iveco used by Syrian Arab Army’s (SyAA) Tiger Forces commander Suheil Al-Hassan. Al-Hassan is both a controversial and popular leader within the SyAA. Here we can see him on a field tour with Assad in Idlib.

These above are standard Russian military licence plates: as the sample below makes more evident, the last two digits on the plate are smaller than the others but closer to the top edge. That is to make space for “RUS” written at the bottom of the last two digits.

3. Where And When In Syria The Iveco LMV Was Being Used

Tiger Forces Commander Al-Hassan In Aleppo (محطة حلب الحرارية)

Footage uploaded to YouTube on March 18, 2016, shows a scene during the offensive to recapture Aleppo’s Thermal Power Plant. The Iveco LMV seen in the footage is used by Suheil Salman Al-Hassan (سهيل الحسن‎), commander of the SyAA’s Tiger Forces, or Quwwat al-Nimr (قُوَّات النِّمْر)

Al-Hassan was subjected to EU restrictive measures over the situation in Syria since 2014 and was identified as having given orders to fire directly at protestors in a Human Rights Watch report.

In this footage we can see the Iveco LMV and confirm the make through the various angles it was filmed at below: 

Footage can be geolocated by searching for “thermal power plants, Syria” and following the georesults through Wikipedia, providing the following list: 

This takes us to this location, East Aleppo Power Station.

Location of attack unfolding in the background can be verified by comparing the imagery with features on the ground. 

Chronolocating the event can be done by looking at features identified that would change over time, such as the destruction of the plant, and the smoke. Rather than using Google Earth Pro’s historical slider, Sentinel Hub’s playground browser can be utilised for its more frequent range of satellite imagery. 

Specifically, Sentinel Hub has this shot from February 16, 2016.

Layering Sentinel-2 imagery from Sentinel Hub with a fire script made by Pierre Markuse (found here on Github) into Google Earth we can compare the direction of the eastern plume to chronologically match the feature present in the footage and thus to verify its time and location. 

Social media images, taken moments after the attack on the Aleppo Thermal Power Plant, also show an Iveco vehicle, likely that of Al-Hassan. We geolocated the image to this location. Note, the vehicle is identified by the green arrow in the bottom left image. 

Desert Hawks In Al-Rassafah (الرصافة‎)

In June 2016, an Iveco LMV was spotted on the road connecting Sufyan oilfields to Tabaqa (foreground, left), next to a Russian GAZ Tigr vehicle (foreground, right).

Sources have described this as part of the offensive carried out by different units belonging to the SyAA. Among these was the Suqour al-Sahraa’ (لواء صقور الصحراء‎), i.e. the Desert Hawks (or Desert Falcons) Brigade, which deployed from Ithiriya on June 2, 2016, and followed Highway 42 towards Raqqah, with some Russian support. 

The main force, after reaching the Safiya crossroad, reportedly headed North leaving Highway 42, past the Sufyan olifields, and attacked ISIS positions while trying to reach Tabaqa airbase. As ISIS counter-attacked, it eventually forced the SyAA to retreat and abandon all previously-occupied territory up until the oilfield. 

Footage from the offensive has enabled a more comprehensive look over the area, and allowed us to identify the exact location where the Iveco LMV was spotted.

This variation in elevation, visible looking North from the LMV, has been found on Google Earth imagery as well, after scanning large portions of the road connecting Sufyan oilfields and Tabaqa airbase, and corresponds to the area preceding Thawra oilfield coming from the South.

By analysing this portion of road on other satellite imagery providers, a second line of poles which follows the road (from where we can see the Iveco LMV in line with the top of the hill ahead) is visible. This is another indication that the road visible from the first photograph and the footage matches the one captured from the satellite.

A photograph of the same scene taken from the vehicles’ front allowed us to identify the missing piece: the antenna on the picture’s left edge indicates the position of the Al-Rassafah station, which the convoy had driven through previously from Highway 42. This enables the identification of the section of road of interest between the two points, Thawra and Rassafah.  

Using the two photographs and the aforementioned video we were able to geolocate the Iveco LMV to this exact point.

To chronolocate the event we can, again, focus on a fire. In this case the one captured in the RT video we previously mentioned. That video was uploaded to YouTube on June 20, 2016, but was likely recorded before that date. The smoke is coming from the direction of Thawra Industrial Facility, but it does not look like it originated from the facility itself, but rather from a smaller object, possibly a vehicle, closer to the camera and to the side of the road. The Facility’s buildings, in fact, appear more to the background compared to the flames. We can see this in the illustration below, where the Thawra Industrial Facility is located in green, whereas the location of the smoke appears to be coming from a location more to the ‘right’ in the image, as indicated by the red circle. 

When comparing Sentinel-2A L1C imagery with Landsat 8 USGS imagery of the area, respectively from June 12 and June 19, 2016, a plume of black smoke is visible rising westward and located ahead of the point where the road slightly turns to the right, shortly before the Industrial Facility. This is consistent with the location and size of the smoke originating from the burning object visible in the video, and is consistent with the geolocation of the Iveco LMV.

Because satellite imagery from June 12, 2016 shows no signs of fires nor of charred soil on that portion of land, and because SyAA units had reportedly abandoned the territory conquered until Thawra following ISIS’ counterattack on June 18, the photograph of the Iveco LMV must have been taken between June 12 and 19, 2016, most likely closer to the latter date.

To further prove the existence and verify the entity of the fire and the direction of its plume of smoke, EOS LandViewer allows to apply a Shortwave Infrared (SWIR) band combination. This enables us to spot, in the portion of land of our interest, a peculiarly hot section which “glows”.

At the center of the first photographs stands Mohammad Jaber (محمد جابر), leader of the Desert Hawks Brigade, wearing sunglasses. Jaber is surrounded by military personnel equipped in a peculiar fashion: the man with a concealed face standing in front of him carries an AK-74 assault rifle and sports a Russian military patch on his left arm;  two men in the background — one aboard the Tigr vehicle — wear a 6b47-type-styled helmet

The particularities in equipment listed above, together with the presence of the Iveco LMV and the GAZ Tigr, suggest that the Russian support to the Suqour al-Sahraa’ was, at the time, significant.

Mohammad Jaber was the leader of the Desert Hawks Brigade, a Shia militia which participated in many battles with the SyAA between 2013 and 2017. Despite several military successes, the unit was reportedly disbanded in August 2017.

Mohammad Jaber, and his brother Ayman Jaber (أيمن جابر), are listed among sanctioned persons by the EU since 2011 for their role in the repression and violence against the civilian population and coordination of Shabiha militias, and for providing economic support to the regime of Bashar Al-Asad.

Desert Hawks/Hezbollah in Palmyra Offensive at Western Bayarat (البيارات الغربية)

This Iveco LMV was spotted on Road 32 which connects the T4 (Tifor) airbase to Palmyra, and appears to be armed with a DShK-type 12.7mm heavy machine gun, most probably mounted on a ring mount on its roof. 

Following the review of a significant amount of footage from the Palmyra campaign, this video was found. It was recorded at the same location, apparently only a few seconds before the picture above, and it shows the same Iveco with an open roof hatch in the background. 

Two additional videos (1,2), and this picture, all taken around the same location, allow for the geolocation of the Iveco LMV to this position.

The main picture was first published on Syrian Arab News Agency’s (SANA) website on February 17, 2017. According to Wikimapia, the area in which the Iveco was geolocated is called Western Bayarat (البيارات الغربية). 

Al-Masdar News published this map on February 14, 2017 announcing SyAA’s seizure of Hayan gasfield/oilfield:

On February 15, SANA published a video showing combat footage around Hayan gasfield. This narrows down the date of the image between February 14 and 17, 2017.

The Palmyra campaign started on January 13 and ended on March 3 with SyAA taking back control over the ancient city, its surrounding hills and gas/oil fields. Hezbollah and the Desert Hawks Brigade were among the units who participated in the campaign.

This RT report on SyAA’s advance in Palmyra includes an interview with a soldier. The badge on his left  arm reads قوات صقور الصحراء‎, “Desert Hawks Forces”.

We have geolocated this footage. It was recorded from this hill, near the triangle of Palmyra:

Al-Manar TV, a Lebanese channel which is banned in different countries for its links to Hezbollah(1, 2)reported on the participation of Hezbollah to the Palmyra offensive while visiting one of Hezbollah’s defensive positions. The report (archived) includes pictures of soldiers standing on a hill behind trenches, and interviews with soldiers who spoke from a Lebanese perspective about the strategic importance of Palmyra.

One of these defensive positions, with a soldier standing behind sandbags, was geolocated to this hill (an alternative picture which allows better analysis was found on Twitter).

 4. Why Transactions For The Sale Of These Arms Appear To Be Anomalous

Iveco Export Licence Authorised In 2009

The 2009 Report to Italy’s parliament on the sale and export of military equipment stated that Iveco was granted a licence by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to export:

  • 2x model M65E19WM armoured vehicles
  • 3x manuals; and
  • 98x spare parts and tools for the same vehicle model 

The total value for this licence was €642.064,00. We have provided a screenshots below of the reports where this is indicated in the red box (Attachment 1; “model M65E19WM” is the original name). These screenshots below correlate to any further mentions of the related attachments. 

 













 

In the report by the Ministry of Economy and Finances (MEF) concerning concluded exports, the same amount is mentioned for payments made by Russia. 

From this, we can tell the following: 

  • The licence’s number is 17977 (seen in attachment 2)
  • It was paid for in full in 2009 (attachment 2) and; 
  • Its items were wholly exported by the same year (seen in attachment 3)

Iveco Export Licences Authorised In 2011

In 2011, another authorization by the MFA granted Iveco the sale of 10 M65E19WM armoured vehicles for €2.750.000,00. This can be seen in attachment 4. 

By comparing the license values we can say that this was licence number 22210. It was paid for, in its entirety, by Russia in 2011 (seen in attachment 5) and its content was exported in the same year (seen in attachment 6) as indicated by the Customs Agency.

Another authorization released in 2011 allowed for 358 M65E19WM disassembled vehicles to be exported by Iveco for €96.600.000,00 (attachment 7). No payments referring to this licence have been found in Italian Government documents — up to the year 2018, i.e. the latest available data — where payments related to arms exports are usually reported.

At the same time, exports originating from this licence have occurred in:

  • 2012 (€15.474.531,00 for 57 vehicles – attachment 8)
  • 2013 (€34.158.600,00 for 126 vehicles – attachment 9) and;
  • 2014 (€21.896.400,00 for 81 vehicles – attachment 10). 

This order has seemingly not been fully exported (264 vehicles delivered up to 2014). However, Jane’s reported in 2014 that Russia had just concluded assembly of 358 armoured vehicles from Iveco following an order placed in 2011 [ITAR-TASS original statement], and that it would not assemble more. 

Additionally, in 2013 TASS revealed that a criminal case had been instituted against Oboronservis for evasion of the customs fee in relation to the import of 264 armoured vehicles manufactured by Iveco following contracts concluded in 2011-2012

Official government documents, instead, tell a different story: 

  • 264 vehicles were only exported by 2014, and not by 2013; 
  • 358 vehicles will be only exported by 2015 (and not even then) — as shown below — and not by 2014.

Iveco Export Licence Authorised In 2015

In 2015, a new authorization was issued for the sale of 94 M65E19WM armoured vehicles for the value of €25.130.469,00 (seen in attachment 11). 

By comparing the values we can tell:

  • This was license number 36288 
  • A payment concerning this licence was made by Russia for €22.410.000,00 (seen in attachment 12); and
  • 83 vehicles out of the lot of 94 were exported in the same year (seen in attachment 13). 

By adding the 94 vehicles of the 2015 license to the 264 exported by 2014 of the 2011 license, we obtain 358 of the original lot. 

At the same time, the 2011 license had not been fully exported, and the relative payments are missing from arms exports data. Operations regarding this vehicle’s model to Russia do not appear in following years’ reports.

An Arms Embargo

On July 31, 2014, the EU adopted Council Decision 2014/512/CFSP concerning restrictive measures in view of Russia’s actions destabilising the situation in Ukraine

Of particular interest and relevance are the provisions within Article 2 Paragraph 1 of the Decision:

These measures have been renewed regularly since their adoption in July 2014, until the latest Decision, in June 2019, that extends the sanction until July 31, 2020.

As with every sanction, this one too has its waivers, which are contained in Paragraphs 4 to 7. Only Paragraph 4 is pertinent:

This provision exempts any contract stipulated before August 1 2014 or additional contracts necessary for the completion of previously-granted ones from being sanctioned, and does not require prior authorization nor for the Council to be informed.

The authorisation of the new license for the sale of 94 M65E19WM armoured vehicles for the value of €25.130.469,00 was granted after Decision 2014/512/CFSP was adopted.  

Summary Points

In this open source investigation, we have shown you the path of the Iveco LMV as it was sold to Russia from Italy, with government-granted export licences. 

We have identified some of these exports to be in breach of the EU Common Position, as well as being licensed after the establishment of sanctions placed on Russia by the EU. 

On the ground level, we have identified why these safeguards exist in the first place — that is, to stop European arms ending up in the hands of EU-sanctioned militia leaders who have been responsible for acts against human rights. 

Through geolocation and chronolocation, we have identified how the Italian vehicles arrived in Syria, and where and when these vehicles have been in use by those leaders. Furthermore, they continue to be in use by Syrian Army and Russian forces in 2019.

The post The War Trade: How Italy Sold Armoured Vehicles To Russia + Their Deployment With Syrian Army Militias appeared first on bellingcat.

How Russia Issues Fake Passports to Its Operatives in Ukraine

On 27 October 2014, a man named Igor Nikoalevich Beregovoy arrived in Simferopol, Crimea, after boarding an Aeroflot flight in Krasnodar earlier that afternoon. Igor Nikolaevich was born on 30 December 1965, from the Crimean city of Simferopol.

However, there is another man named Igor Nikolaevich born on 30 December 1965, and who was born in Simferopol — Igor Nikolaevich Bezler, the infamous separatist commander who controlled the city of Horlivka in the Donetsk oblast in 2014, and who has been credibly accused of a litany of war crimes. On October 27th, the same day that “Beregovoy” arrived in Simferopol, Igor Bezler told the press secretary of his former fighting group in Horlivka that he had left eastern Ukraine and would not return.

Bezler is just one of many Russian operatives who were given fake passports by Russian security services while operating in Ukraine. By using leaked Russian databases, only a few basic biographical details can unmask an operative’s fake identity, as seen with another GRU operative — Oleg Ivannikov (“Andrey Laptev”).

Bezler’s Shoddy Fake Identity

Bezler was issued an internal Russian passport under the name Beregovoy, with all the other personal details (date of birth, first name/patronymic) the same as his real identity. Bezler/Beregovoy used this passport to travel in Russia/Ukraine, as revealed in leaked databases freely available online that show Russian air travel activity in 2014.

The ten-digit number for internal Russian passports are easy to decipher. The first two digits indicate the issuing office for the passport, the next two digits indicate the year that the form was printed, meaning that the passport was likely given in either this year or the following one, and the final six digits are the passport’s serial number. Thus, the “passport neighbors” for “Beregovoy” belong to other people issued their documents in the same batch as him. In a previous Bellingcat investigation, we found that GRU-issued passports to Wagner fighters were in the same “passport neighborhood”, with the final digits being fairly close to one another, as they were all processed together.

The passport of “Beregovoy” (numbered 4513078492) was issued by a Moscow office, as indicated by the 45 at the beginning of his internal passport number. The next two digits — 13 — indicate that the form for the passport was printed in 2013, meaning that the passport was issued in either 2013 or 2014. Lastly, the final six digits — 078492 — refer to the serial number of the passports issued by this Moscow office from 2013-printed forms.

One of the easiest ways to verify a Russian citizen’s real identity is through referencing the taxpayer number (INN), given to all Russian citizens as they reach adulthood. However, when searching for the taxpayer number (INN) for a Russian citizen having these same personal details as Beregovoy, there is no result, indicating that this is likely not a real Russian citizen. Additionally, it’s very unlikely that “Beregovoy” would have a different internal passport, as he was issued this one in 2013/4 and would not need to renew his for quite some time. “Beregovoy” was not listed in any publicly available databases for citizens issued replacement passports due to the document being lost or destroyed.

Passport Neighbors

Issuing a fake passport for an infamous war criminal under his real first name, patronymic, and date of birth may seem sloppy, but the story does not end there. If we are to search for Beregovoy’s passport number in the same 2014 flight database, but having the last two digits as a wildcard operator (allowing for any result for these last two digits), we can find his “passport neighbors” for individuals issued passports at around the same time as him. Running this search, we find a startling discovery: Andrei Laptev, the cover identity of GRU officer Oleg Ivannikov.

This flight information shows that Andrei Ivanovich Laptev, born 6 April 1967, flew from Rostov to Moscow on 23 August 2014. Like with “Beregovoy”, running these details through Russia’s taxpayer database brings about no results. More importantly, we can see his passport number: 4513078464. This passport number differs by only twenty-eight digits from that of Beregovoy (4513078492), indicating that they were issued from the same batch.

Andrei Ivanovich Laptev is not a real person; rather, he is the cover identity of Oleg Vladimirovich Ivannikov, born on 2 April 1967 (four days before the birth of “Laptev”). While operating under the cover identity of Laptev, Ivannikov served as the chairman of the Security Council (2004-2006) and as the Minister of Defense and Emergencies (2006-2008) of the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia. While in eastern Ukraine, Ivannikov/Laptev operated under the code names “Andrei Ivanovich” and “Orion”, and were the subject of a 2016 call for witnesses by the official criminal investigation into the downing of MH17, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT). Ivannikov/Laptev’s distinct high-pitched voice can be heard in his phone calls in the embedded video below.

Easily Exploitable Vulnerability

While Russia is able to change its records for its own internal records and databases, the widespread proliferation of leaked Russian databases serves a continuing threat to the secrecy of Russia’s security service operatives. Russia can modify its internal, active records, but once a database is scraped and leaked online, it is fossilized at the point of leaking — in other words, Russia cannot modify the thousands of offline copies of databases floating around on torrents, leaving any potentially dangerous information out of reach of the state.

The aforementioned travel database is just one of countless leaked databases from Russian records, which also include vehicle ownership records, residential lists, social media details (including from deleted profiles), and far more examples.

The post How Russia Issues Fake Passports to Its Operatives in Ukraine appeared first on bellingcat.