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Russia Geopolitical Watch – From July 23 to July 29, 2022

Russia Geopolitical Watch Team: Lauren Lemaire-Hec, Manik Tadevosian, Enzo Pavodan, Simon Bouclier, Amandine Paillette, Olga Shevchuk, Sara Brouwers. 

07/24/2022: “Tsentr Dossier” investigation reveals that the former head of operations of German payment company Wirecard, Jan Marsalek, received a Russian passport -Lauren Lemaire-Hec- 

With the help of the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Tsentr Dossier project published an investigation on 24 July, revealing that Wirecard’s ex-operations manager – Jan Marsalek, fled to Russia by receiving a Russian passport. While he was fired on 18 June 2020 after his involvement in the loss of around two billion euros from Wirecard’s accounts, the man escaped justice by fleeing to Minsk on a private jet and then to Moscow. According to the Belarusian authorities, Jan Marsalek did not leave their territory. However, the investigation revealed a “double” of the ex-director who had passed the Belarusian border control by presenting an Austrian passport in the name of Maks Mauer. 

According to Tsentr Dossier, the man wanted by Interpol received a Russian passport in the name of Bazhenov in 2021 and now lives in Moscow under FSB protection. Jan Marsalek has had connections with Russia for years. Several media outlets (The Insider, Bellingcat and Der Spiegel) published an investigation in 2020, indicating that he had visited Russia more than 60 times in 10 years and had already cooperated with Russian special services, providing information on German and Austrian business relations.

07/25/2022: The FSB announces that it has stopped an attempt to hijack Russian fighter planes – Lauren Lemaire-Hec – 

The Public Relations Centre of the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) announced on 25 July that “the operation of NATO intelligence officers supervised by the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence was discovered and foiled”. The aim of this operation was more precisely to hijack Russian fighter planes, to “recruit Russian military pilots in exchange for a monetary reward and guarantees of obtaining citizenship of one of the European Union countries”, according to the FSB. 

A video published by the Federal Security Service on the Zvezda channel shows a conversation between a Ukrainian intelligence officer and a Russian pilot, the former promising the latter up to two million dollars for hijacking the plane as well as a European passport for his wife. 

On the other hand, Khristo Groziev, a journalist for the Bellincat project (an independent network of investigators, which uses data available online to conduct its investigations, including war crimes committed in Ukraine) has been accused of taking part in the attempted hijacking. He denied to Radio Svoboda his involvement in the case. According to Khristo Groziev, Bellingcat was investigating how the FSB and the Ukrainian services try to deceive each other and play a double game. He also claimed that a hijacking attempt actually took place – not organised by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, but by a group of former Ukrainian agents. According to the journalist, in trying to stop the Ukrainian operation, the FSB “inadvertently revealed the identities of dozens of counter-intelligence agents, their working methods and their undercover agents”

07/27/2022: Sergei Lavrov continues his African tour to strengthen Russia’s influence. -Sara Brouwers-

After Egypt, the Republic of Congo and Uganda, the head of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, visited Addis Ababa in Ethiopia on Wednesday. The Russian government pursued two objectives through this African tour: to reassure Moscow’s African partners on the continuity of Russian and Ukrainian cereal exports to Africa and to prepare for the next Russia-Africa summit after the one in Sochi in 2019.

Russia is thus increasingly replacing the former European colonial powers in Africa, and its involvement is growing. In Mali, the Wagner group is close to the ruling power and is accused of supporting anti-French sentiments on which the junta at the head of the country surfs. Since 2018, Russian military personnel have been training the army in the Central African Republic, and Moscow opened a naval base on the Red Sea in Port Sudan the following year.

07/28/2022: The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the negotiations on the exchange of prisoners with the United States – Enzo Padovan –

 On July 28th, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s representative, Maria Zakharova, confirmed that negotiations were ongoing in order to achieve a prisoner exchange with the United States. Despite not being directly named in the declaration, it is known that those discussions focus on three specific prisoners. First of those, Brittney Griner, an American basketball player who was arrested in February for smuggling drugs on the Russian territory. She has pleaded guilty for this crime, whilst maintaining that she did not do it intentionally. Then, the second American citizen currently detained by Moscow is named Paul Whelan, imprisoned 16 years ago for spying, and who has always denied these accusations. Those two personalities could be exchanged against a Russian weapons dealer, who served as an inspiration for the movie “Lord of War”, released in 2005.

However, these discussions have not yet ended. Maria Zakharova has explained it in those terms: “a definitive agreement has not yet been achieved. At the same time, we proceed from the fact that the interests of both parties should be taken into account in the course of the negotiation process.” Additional steps need to be reached in order to confirm the exchange, but the diplomatic actions seem to be a good starting point. Already in April 2022, a Russian citizen imprisoned in the United States for drug trafficking, Konstantin Yaroshenko, has been traded for Martin Reed. Reed is an American national who has been accused of violence, which he has always denied any responsibility for. 

07/29/2022: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov participated in the meeting of the Foreign Ministers’ Council of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) – Manik Tadevosian – 

On 29 July, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov traveled to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to participate in the Foreign Ministers’ Council meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The SCO is an intergovernmental organisation currently composed of eight member states (China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), and four observer states seeking full membership (Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia).  

At the end of the meeting, Sergei Lavrov announced that the Shanghai Summit will adopt an agreement to extend the use of national currencies in trade between member states. The head of Russian diplomacy also returned to the results of his tour of Africa, saying that African countries and Russia’s partners in the SCO realise that any member of the international community can fall under US sanctions. Regarding Belarus’ membership in the SCO, the Russian minister added that there was a consensus among the organisation’s member countries. Finally, the Russian Foreign Minister reiterated his country’s support for the one-China policy on the Taiwan issue. In this sense, he said: “We hope that there will be no provocations related to the Taiwan issue, which could aggravate the situation in the region”.

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