Hired Guns: Journalists' Deaths Turn Attention to Mercenaries Abroad

Russian Life, September-October 2018 | Go to article overview

Hired Guns: Journalists' Deaths Turn Attention to Mercenaries Abroad


THE DEATHS IN July under mysterious circumstances of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic (CAR), where they were working on a documentary about Russian mercenaries in foreign conflicts, has refocused attention on Russian guns-for-hire. Working as a mercenary is illegal under Russian law, yet most reports suggest that the soldiers in question are being hired through Kremlin-loyal companies.

Orkhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguyev and Kirill Radchenko were all experienced conflict reporters and went to Africa after investigating reports that Russian mercenaries were involved in the conflict in CAR--the world's poorest country, but one rich in natural resources. The CAR government is wrestling for control with various Christian and Muslim warring groups.

The three journalists were shot dead on July 31. Their bodies were found on the side of the road in a spot that was well off their planned itinerary. In addition, their driver, a local man, was merely wounded by the assailants, whom he alleged were wearing turbans (the details of his testimony have changed repeatedly). The driver was subsequently hidden by local security services, preventing further contact with the media.

The Russian Foreign Ministry and CAR government said the attack was a roadside robbery: the journalists, who were carrying expensive equipment and thousands of dollars in cash, were prime targets in a strife-torn land with no law and order. But conspiracy theories immediately proliferated, fueled by the secretive nature of Russian mercenary activities in the CAR.

These mercenaries, particularly a group known as "Wagner Private Military Group," first came to light in 2015, when the St. Petersburg-based news site fontanka.ru exposed attempts by Russian entities to send guns-for-hire to Syria to help the Syrian government re-assert control over the country and to guard its energy infrastructure. …

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