Three Russian journalists who went to Africa to investigate the activities of mercenary groups that might be linked at an ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin have been killed.
Russian officials have tried to label the killings as a robbery gone wrong, but an editor with the media group the journalists were working for said he doubts that claim.
The three men were killed in the Central African Republic after the car they were in was riddled with bullets while the men were on their way to meet a United Nations contact, The Washington Post reported.
The men were “on an investigation into Russian private mercenaries, in particular the Wagner group,” said Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an exiled former oil company executive who heads the news organization that employed the journalists, according to Bloomberg Quint.
The Wagner group is linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, who bears the nickname “Putin’s Cook” because one of his companies has the food service contract for the Kremlin.
Prigozhin has denied any connection to mercenaries in the Central African Republic.
The Russian journalists murdered in Central African Republican seems to be getting darker. https://t.co/pyZdLMJAYd
— Yuval Weber (@yuvalweber) August 1, 2018
The men were killed in an ambush.
“According to the driver’s explanations, when they were (14 miles) from Sibut … armed men emerged from the bush and opened fire on the vehicle. The three journalists died instantly,” Sibut Mayor Henri Depele said, according to Reuters. The driver was left alive.
The Kremlin threw some shade on the slain journalists Wednesday.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said local officials reported that the journalists ignored danger warnings
“What they were really doing in C.A.R., what their goals and tasks were, is an open question,” Zakharova said.
The RIA Novosti state news agency quoted what it said was an expert on Africa saying the men died in a “typical robbery amid the overall conflict.”
Andrei Konyakhin, the chief editor of the Investigations Management Center, said he did not buy the claim that the men were killed in a robbery.
“This was done in a very demonstrative fashion,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “If they could have just taken everything from them, why kill them?”
Khodorkovsky said he will find out who is responsible, and will not back down from investigating the issue of Russian mercenary activity in Africa.
“It’s one of the few ways we can currently influence the situation in the country,” Khodorkovsky said. “When even rather small news outlets write about something and it gets attention in even a narrow segment of the public, the authorities can get rather sensitive and tuck in their paws.”
He said the activities of mercenaries abroad could ultimately threaten Russians at home.
“I concluded that in our case the situation with these kinds of nontransparent mercenary structures is even more dangerous than it is in general,” Khodorkovsky said. “Tomorrow they can be used to deal with things inside Russia using nongovernmental hands.”
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