Profit Motive Fortifies Russia’s Arsenal in Syria

In Military and War, RUSSIA -- articles only On
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Most Middle Eastern wars are suspected of having some variant of this deal, but it is seldom made as explicit as in the Russian contracts.

“It’s all very simple,” Ivan P. Konovalov, director of the Center for Strategic Trends Studies, said by telephone of the deals, struck in December but just recently reported. “If a company provides security, then the country getting that service should pay. It doesn’t matter how the payment is made.”

In the petroleum deal, Evro Polis, a corporation formed last summer, will receive a 25 percent share of oil and natural gas produced on territory it captures from the Islamic State, the news site reported.

The website has a record of accurately reporting about private security companies in Russia, and just last month Washington appeared to corroborate one of its earlier reports by imposing sanctions on a Russian whose activities first came to light in the publication.

. . .

Journalists have reported that Mr. Prigozhin engaged in another recent Russian experiment in restoring influence abroad while keeping costs down: He set up a factory of so-called internet trolls in St. Petersburg, an office packed with low-paid people posting online under assumed identities to influence public opinion in foreign countries, including the United States.

Last month, the Treasury Department in Washington imposed sanctions on Dmitri Utkin, the founder of Wagner, the private security group the report said would capture the Syrian oil and gas wells for Evro Polis. Fontanka first linked Mr. Utkin to Wagner in an article in 2015.

In the other deal, the Russian energy company Stroytransgaz won rights to mine phosphate in central Syria under the condition it secure the mine site, the Russian news outlet RBC reported.

. . .

Mr. Konovalov, the military analyst, said the Syrian government was more than willing to strike such deals, trading natural resources for security.

“They get the better side of this contract,” he said. “They get our participation in the security sector in Syria, which is very valuable.”

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The Spoils, and Profits, of Conflict

The deals are shadowy and secretive. According to the enterprising Russian news site Fontanka, one company, Evro Polis, working with a private security group called Wagner — which is suspected of operating in eastern Ukraine and whose founder is under United States sanctions — stands to get a 25 percent share of oil and natural gas produced on territory it recaptures from the Islamic State. Evro Polis was registered only a year ago and is part of a network of companies owned by Evgeniy Prigozhin, a Kremlin caterer close to President Vladimir Putin. Another Russian company, Stroytransgaz, got rights to mine phosphate in central Syria in exchange for guarding the area. The company’s owner is also under United States sanctions.

When Fontanka questioned the Ministry of Energy, the response was that the deals are “corporate secrets.” But when Fontanka asked a private security consultant about these kinds of deals, the consultant expressed no surprise. “War is business,” he was quoted as saying.

Indeed, mercenaries have always been around, and private military contractors have played a major role with United States forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, guarding installations and officials, training local army and police officers and providing other services. In one notorious episode, several employees of Blackwater, a private military firm now called Academi, were accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.

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