Report: Kremlin Tied to Private Military, Troll Farm

Published: 18 August 2020

wagner logo A replica of the logo allegedly wore by Wagner soldiers. (Photo:

By Sandrine Gagné-Acoulon

After having analyzed leaked emails and phone records, Bellingcat reporters were able to present last week how frequent a Russian tycoon has been communicating with the Kremlin and other Russian institutions during his worldwide private military and disinformation activities. 

Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman and close associate of President Vladimir Putin, was the center of OCCRP’s Investigation “The Chef’s Global Footprint” that showed he is far more than the administrator of a company offering catering services to the Kremlin. 

He is linked to a private military company called Wagner and suspected of fighting on behalf of the Russian government in Syria and eastern Ukraine, and maintaining a strong presence in Africa. 

Prigozhin was sanctioned by the United States for his financial support of the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential election as well as the 2018 midterm elections.

The joint investigation by Bellingcat, The Insider and Der Spiegel found that the Wagner mercenaries were most likely supervised by Russia’s Defense Ministry in missions abroad.  

Reporters reviewed leaked email archives belonging to employees working for Prigozhin’s group of companies and as well as Prigozhin’s phone records. 

They said that between late 2013 and early 2014, a period matching the international expansion of his troll-farm operations, Prigozhin spoke or texted with practically the entire leadership of the Russian Presidential Administration Office, along with a number of senior figures of internal security agencies and the Ministry of Defense - departments that have little to do with the organization of Kremlin’s diners. 

“In particular, he called and texted Dmitry Peskov – President Putin’s adviser and spokesperson – a total of 144 times,” Bellingcat wrote. 

The journalists also identified a man called “Mazay”, who allegedly served as a liaison between some of Prigozhin’s influencing and military operations in Africa and the Russian Defense Ministry. 

“Mazay” or “The Colonel”, whom reporters identified as Kostantin Malofeev, was allegedly in  command of Russian operations in Africa, including advising the president of the Central African Republic (CAR) and acting as a bodyguard for some of the candidates running in 2019 for president in Madagascar

It also appears that Malofeev instructed political and media consultants that were part of a Prigozhin project in Africa. According to Bellingcat, Malofeev was “widely seen by Prigozhin’s team as a representative of the Ministry of Defense, and/or the Kremlin in general.” 

The journalists found that Malofeev was also in CAR in July 2018 when three Russian journalists investigating the role of Prigozhin and Wagner soldiers in mining operations were murdered. 

If the United States has imposed sanctions on assets belonging to Yevgeniy Prigozhin, Kostantin Malofeev, according to Bellingcat, appears to be off the radars of Western intelligence.