Yesterday, November 20, Russia's Novaya Gazeta published a large investigation piece dedicated to a video that emerged last week, showing Russian mercenaries of the Wagner PMC in Syria burn a body of a prisoner they had tortured to death.
This video shocked its viewers, while Russian media, mainly government-controlled ones, tried to dampen the wave by reporting on the alleged crimes committed by British spec-ops in the Middle East and resuscitating the story of a Russian cossack captured and killed by ISIS back in 2017.
And yet, the Novaya Gazeta left no chance for this video to sink into oblivion and covered all aspects of this shocking content, from its initial publication on June 30, 2017, which depicted only the first part of the torture by Russian thugs to the finale with the setting a dead body on fire.
And in this context it would be very appropriate to ask, why it was the Novaya Gazeta which took upon itself the issue of exposing this crime, rather than the famed The Insider, known for being the first outlet to reveal the most covert operations of Russian intelligence? Perhaps it's because Yevgeny Prigozhin's PMC Wagner is an FSB-sponsored group, and therefore The Insider just doesn't want to bite the feeding hand, although it's possible that investigators are just very busy working on some other sensational case...
But, nevertheless, returning to the spin of the video, I will return to the fact that PMC Wagner is primarily a structure supervised by the FSB which, in fact, had claimed "control" over Syria long before the arrival of divisions of the Russian defense ministry led by Sergey Shoigu.
Let me remind you that the competition between the Russian defense ministry and the FSB for financial flows and the "supreme" influence on decision-making has now escalated to new highs. And this struggle, at times, goes beyond the limits of information attacks and leaks.
Speaking of the most striking examples of confrontation between these two Russian agencies, I would recall the incident of February 7, 2018, that unfolded in the area of the city of Hasham, near Deir ez Zor, when the units of PMC Wagner were destroyed by U.S. artillery and attack helicopters. Then the Wagner folks were deployed in the area to face certain death as they had no heavy weapons or MANPADS, while the Russian group's command never informed the Americans that there were Russians in Assad's convoys.
The FSB’s original response to this was not only a launched wave of leaks targeting the assets of the defense ministry's GRU, including through the FSB-controlled The Insider outlet, but also some more stringent forms of suppressing any attempts to investigate this mercenary group by journalists affiliated with the defense ministry.
In particular, on July 31, 2018, in the Central African Republic, near the city of Sibiu, three Russian journalists – Orkhan Dzhemal, Kirill Radchenko and Alexander Rastorguev – were shot dead. The three had arrived in CAR to investigate Wagner PMC's operations. It is important to note that these supposedly independent journalists worked under the auspices of the Russian defense ministry, although they were officially deployed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Dossier project.
Remarkably, on the anniversary of the death of journalists, through the Novaya Gazeta, Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s investigation project Dossier published leaked communications of Wagner PMC in the Central African Republic, which confirm the pre-planned and deliberate nature of the journalists' slaying.
And, to some extent, we can see a similar situation now, where the Novaya Gazeta maintains a degree of attention to war crimes committed PMC Wagner, voicing new facts and exposing persons involved.
In fact, this kind of defamatory material is a blow primarily to the Lubyanka. The confrontation between the intelligence agencies in Russia reached one of its peaks before the presidential elections in Russia in 2018, when intense competition between various groups of influence for access to Putin turned into a real war, both on the information and on the actual battlefield. The main goal of such a struggle is to have direct contact with the main distributor of declining budget flows.
Following Putin's re-election, the war for resources between the Prigozhin and Shoigu's groups didn't subside, but rather aggravated significantly, especially given the fact that the major feed base, both for the defense ministry and PMC Wagner (FSB) is drying up in Syria amid conflict de-escalation. But there are many other sites where Russia could deploy their "thugs." And such defamatory videos, one way or another, affect the Kremlin's decision-making.