The daily beast
How a man connected to Prigozhin, Putin's boss, infiltrated the United Nations
The world has learned a lot about Yevgeny Prigozhin since the American authorities first brought charges against him two years ago for alleged financial ties to the internet troll farm, which is charged with Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. Prigozhin, known as "Putin's boss" due to his extensive Kremlin catering contracts, was also sanctioned by the US for his alleged connections to Russian mercenaries who are part of the Wagner group. Leaked data from several sanctioned Russian companies affiliated with Prigozhin's business networks now shows that key Prigozhin employees helped one of his political advisers infiltrate a senior United Nations body. The alleged Priggozhin mercenary army supplies intelligence agencies and paramilitary fighters around the world. The US Treasury Department links it directly to President Vladimir Putin's chain of command, which describes the shadow military as "the designated representative of the Russian Defense Ministry". This is evidence of Russia's apparent campaign to place a Prigozhin-related agent on a UN body tasked with overseeing the arms embargo Sudan arrives less than a month after European Union authorities sanctioned Prigozhin for alleged violations against a UN arms embargo against Libya. Analysis of leaked travel and billing documents for Prigozhin affiliates and the email correspondence between a senior Russian diplomat and Nikolai Dobronravin, a professor at St. Petersburg State University and an expert on African energy matters, shows that Dobronravin is an advisor to two companies affiliated with Prigozhin, companies that paid for his trip to the Central African Republic in September 2017. "Putin's head chef" excluded from Europe for shady mercenary operations Dobronravin was first appointed to the committee in March 2018 and received a seat as Catbird over the leading UN body responsible for overseeing the security sector, human rights and arms embargo violations in Sudan. The Kremlin has long been pushing for the sanctions against Sudan to be relaxed and for the United States' peacekeeping mission to be ended in the troubled Darfur region of Sudan. Endeavoring to develop Russia's military and economic ties with the coastal Red Sea countries, Putin began aggressively to cultivate relations with longtime Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir. He invited him to Moscow and signed a military-technical agreement as well as a number of mining and relief supplies deals in 2017, despite a standing international arrest warrant against Bashir related to alleged war crimes pending before the International Criminal Court. Despite the fall of Bashir in 2019, the Kremlin's long campaign to expand its influence seems to be bearing more fruit every day. In early November, it was announced that Sudan had agreed to allow Russia to open a naval logistics center in Port Sudan. The Russian naval center is likely to be a critical hub for Sudanese gold exports, which have proven to be a boon not only to several Prigozhin-affiliated mining companies but also to Russian state coffers. Russia has invested heavily in building its gold reserves to stabilize the ruble and future-proof its economy against stricter Western sanctions. In early 2018, around the same time that Dobronravin's candidacy was being reviewed in the UN-Sudan panel, Russian companies with ties to Prigozhin agreed to work closely with Bashir's one-time protégé and leading strongman Mohamed "Hemedti" Hamdan Dagalo to help Shorten exploration agreements for gold mining. Hemedti, who heads the country's Rapid Support Forces and is now vice chairman of the ruling civil-military council of the transitional government in Khartoum, reportedly has close family ties with Algunade, a Sudanese gold mining company. For its part, the RSF oversees the security of the gold industry in the Darfur region and South Kordofan province. Russian employees of M-Invest in St. Petersburg and Lobaye Invest, two Prigozhin-affiliated companies, were involved in the 2018 murder of three Russian investigative journalists in the Central African Republic (CAR), as well as in mercenary operations in Libya, and an extensive online Disinformation campaign led by the Internet Research Agency, which aims to prop up dictatorships in several African countries, including Madagascar, Mozambique and Sudan. The St. Petersburg-based companies that at least partially financed Dobronravin's research trip to CAR – M-. Invest and EvroPolis are part of the same extensive network of Shell companies, some of which have been sanctioned by the Treasury Department for sending mercenaries from the Wagner group to Sudan to “suppress and discredit protesters seeking democratic reform "And launch a massive disinformation campaign against Sudanese democratic activists in 2019. Finance officials have said Prigozhin has a controlling interest or an advantage stake in M-Invest, EvroPolis, Lobaye Invest, the Internet Research Agency and several other companies operating in Africa. In February 2018, U.S. Special Adviser Robert Mueller and his team brought charges against Prigozhin and several other related employees and employees at Prigozhin's company, including Concord Consulting and Management, for allegedly affecting elections in the U.S. In March of this year, U.S. Justice Department officials abandoned the Election fraud charges are falling against Concord and an affiliate, Concord Catering, amid concerns that the case would also reveal sensitive information about sources and methods used by US authorities to investigate Prigozhin and the Internet Research Agency. In March 2019, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres renewed Dobronravin's tenure in the UN Panel of Experts for Sudan. In 2017 and 2018, when records show that Dobronravin was in close contact with a number of Prigozhin's business partners, Dobronravin also corresponded frequently with high-ranking Russian officials at the Foreign Ministry about his pending application to join the Russian Federation first on the UN panel Representing Central African Republic sanctions experts, which were then released in the Sudan panel, show leaked documents Prigozhin's associates Mikhail Potepkin, Dmitry Sytii, Alexander Kuzin and Yevgeny Khodotov first caught sight of the world two years ago, shortly after international press reports surfaced according to which three Russian journalists had been killed during the investigation into the Wagner group in the Central African Republic in July 2018. In August 2018, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists called for an investigation into the murder of Russian top war correspondent Orkhan Dzhemal and his colleagues Alexander Rastorguyev and Kirill Radchenko in the Central African Republic. A 2019 Dossier Center follow-up investigation into the CAR case named Prigozhin, Khodotov, Sytii and others affiliated with M-Invest, Lobaye Invest and related companies found that Dobronravin had traveled to CAR in 2017. This CAR as murder case, as well as the Wagner group's alleged involvement in the beheading of a Syrian citizen near a large Syrian gas field in 2017 – and covert mercenary operations in Libya – have raised serious concerns about human rights abuses and violations of international law. A UN report published in July made explicit reference to the murders of journalists in the Central African Republic, which indicated that legal ambiguities regarding the status and relationship of the Wagner group with the Russian state were due to the investigation into allegations Misconduct Complicates New Cold War Points for Putin's Chef Leaked accounting records for Prigozhin companies M-Invest and EvroPolis suggest the companies paid for Dobronravin to travel to the Central African Republic's capital, Bangui, when he began the opportunity a competition for a company to be examined coveted place in the UN body for monitoring a long-term arms embargo against CAR. Documents show that 58-year-old Dobronravin traveled with three Russian citizens sanctioned by the US for alleged involvement in the deployment of Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic, Sudan, Syria, Libya and Ukraine. Three years after Dobronravin traveled with them to Africa, the American authorities sanctioned all three men and blacklisted Sytii, Khodotov and Kuzin for their alleged connections to another Prigozhin-related company, Lobaye Invest. Lobaye Invest, along with M-Invest, EvroPolis, and a US-sanctioned Russian mining company called Sudoe Meroe Gold, is one of several Prigozhin-affiliated Shell companies that US authorities have claimed to be involved in exploitative mining operations in Africa. Treasury Department sanctioned M-Invest, Meroe Gold, and the company's chief officer, Mikhail Potepkin, for allegedly doing business with Prigozhin. Three months later, in September, the tax officials also blacklisted Sytii, Kuzin and Khodotov, a public statement indicating that all three were allegedly involved in Prigozhin's business dealings in CAR. Dobronravin's first appointment concluded a lengthy campaign by Dobronravin and several of his well-connected supporters to secure an influential role at the United Nations, even as he continued to correspond with and consult regularly with US-sanctioned individuals. For example, in December 2017, leaked emails indicated that Dobronravin sent a card to Sytii with "Armed Groups Influence Zones" in CAR two months after Dobronravin's trip to CAR and shortly before his appointment in the United States. In a leaked email dated January 31, 2018 that Dobronravin sent to Kuzin with the subject "RE: Food in Sudan," Dobronravin contained a Russian translation of a news article that reported that the President of the Central African Republic, Faustin Archange Touadera, who had signed a treaty with Sudan, Bashir is said to allow Russian mercenaries to train hundreds of CAR soldiers in Sudan. Indeed, the content of hundreds of leaked emails from Dobronravin to Sytii, Kuzin and several other Prigozhin business partners in the 2017-18 period seem to indicate that Dobronravin was aware of the great business interest of his interlocutors, keeping up with the political and political realities to hold security matters in the Central African Republic and Sudan. Dobronravin sought help with an unsuccessful initial offer for a position on the UN Panel for the Central African Republic from Mikael Vadimovich Agsandyan, Russia's Deputy Director of the Department of International Organizations at the Russian Foreign Ministry's Affairs, according to leaked emails. Like Dobronravin, Agsandyan has long worked on African affairs for Russia. This emerges from a biography of Agsandyan posted on the website of the Center for Energy and Security, a Moscow-based think tank and research center that serves ROSATOM primarily as a policy advisory body for Russia's Atomic Energy Agency. In 2018, Agsandyan, who is responsible for managing the UN sanctions portfolio and Middle East and North African affairs, corresponded with Dobronravin through the Sudan panel after his bid was reportedly a victim of US-Russia tensions over Syria and the US -Russia is using covert racists to exploit the anti-racist political revolt in Africa. Several current and former US officials who have worked on issues related to UN sanctions against Sudan and have been asked to read their position on Dobronravin's position said his appointment to a sensitive UN post is on the heels of advice for the US sanctioned company raises questions as to whether Dobronravin's business relationships with Prigozhin's circle were known at the time. "It would certainly be worrying if this link were to play a role in the UN body," said a senior US diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "At the same time, it would not be surprising if Russia tried to use a stalking horse." on the panel. “The UN Security Council Affairs Department manages the recruitment and review of panel experts. In response to an email request, a UN spokesman confirmed that Dobronravin had twice applied for panel positions without success, but added that competition for a seat on UN panels is often intense. The leaked documents on Prigozhin's corporate networks were obtained from the Dossier Center. A London-based investigative research center known for its aggressive investigation into corruption in Russia and its ties to Russian dissident and vocal critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The Daily Beast, The Guardian, the Dossier Center, and New America, a Washington, DC-based think tank, examined the documents as part of a joint investigation. Dobronravin told a Guardian reporter that he could not "confirm or deny" whether he had ever met Prigozhin. However, in an email response to questions about his counseling work, Dobronravin confirmed that he had traveled to CAR in 2017 and said that a “college colleague” invited him for a short stay at CAR based on his knowledge of the region. Dobronravin also admitted that he knew Sytii and said he met him while traveling to Bangui. However, from the invoice records for EvroPolis and M-Invest, it appears that the companies paid for Dobronravin's trip to and from St. Petersburg to Moscow on the same train as Sytii, as well as a one-way flight from Moscow to Bangui with a stop in Doha and a return flight to Moscow with stops in Nairobi and Dubai in late September 2017. According to records, Kuzin and Khodotov were also on the same trip. Dobronravin responded in an email to Daily Beast questions about his connections to companies and people associated with Prigozhin, not sure he was aware that a trip to CAR was at least in part driven by two Prigozhin-affiliated US sanctioned company was funded. “During my counseling work, I have met or may have met some of the people you mentioned. However, I did not interview these people and they did not introduce themselves in detail, ”wrote Dobronravin. Nonetheless, leaked email records verified by The Daily Beast have revealed that Dobronravin was in regular contact with several Russian citizens involved in Wagner Group's operations in CAR and Sudan during the 2017-2018 period when he made first one offer and then another offer to join the United Nations as an expert on recruitment. In an email to Alexander Kuzin dated January 2018, Dobronravin sent a Russian translation of a United States report on the Central African Republic's sanctions, stating that he also sent a diagram of the "EU Mission to the Central African Republic in 2018" as well Would send information about the conflict in the Central African Republic near the Chad border. The leaked email was just one of a dozen checked by the Daily Beast, suggesting that Dobronravin knew Kuzin, Potepkin, Sytii and others on Prigozhin's African corporate networks well. At least one email sent to Kuzin with a translated news summary indicated that Dobronravin was aware of her interests in Russian mercenary operations on the continent. It is not alleged that there is evidence that Dobronravin wronged or acted under the guise of Russian state interest in his work for the UN, but rather his other professional connections resulting from the leak raise questions about whether he was is without a conflict of interest and is a suitable person to sit on a UN panel of experts on a part of Africa where Russian interests are increasingly represented Russia's efforts to expand its influence in Africa have raised significant concern in Washington in recent years, but the scope and scope of the Kremlin campaign over arms transfers and mining and energy contracts are not yet well understood. As a senior American diplomat said when he learned of Dobronravin's connection to Prigozhin's networks, Washington's national security authorities were struggling to find a coherent response to Russia's efforts to cultivate strong governments in Africa. American national security agencies "have a strategy, but there is no direction," said the senior US diplomat. "We're a group of amateurs walking around. The State Department is in a mess." If the US is to get the situation under control, the White House will have to make a major policy change if President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Read More at The Daily Beast. Get our top stories to your inbox every day. Subscribe Now! Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside delves deeper into the stories that matter to you. Learn more.