The group linked to Wagner buys helmets from China despite the sanctions
The front company of the Russian mercenary group Wagner obtained tens of thousands of protective helmets from China late last year, when the group’s boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, raised a huge army of prisoners to attack Ukraine.
Entities used by the warlord to outfit his African operations continue to freely export and import goods on international markets, the Financial Times has found, despite a flurry of Western sanctions to stop a private army it has described as a “transnational criminal organisation”. U.S.
According to customs declarations and interviews analyzed by the FT, in November and December last year, a Russian-based company called Broker Expert, linked to Wagner, bought 20,000 polymer-based helmets from a small Chinese company called Hangzhou Shinerain Import And Export Co. The Chinese group claimed they were made for “gaming use”.
Divided into four shipments, with a reported value of just over $2 million, to buy the helmets was Prigozhin’s recruitment of tens of thousands of Russian convicts to be sent to the front lines in Ukraine.
Since then, most of Wagner’s forces have died in a brutal war of attrition to control the city of Bahmut, and the United States recently estimated that more than 20,000 Russian fighters have been killed in Ukraine since December.
The FT also found that Broker Expert continued to deliver products to Wagner’s African operations through the Douala port in Cameroon during the invasion. This highlights the apparent inability of Western sanctions – which include measures such as asset freezes and asset freezes – to stifle the mercenary group’s ability to finance itself from Prigozhin’s overseas natural resource operations.
According to Russian customs declarations, Broker Expert supplied power generators, welding electrodes and refractory insulation materials to a Prigozhin-controlled logging company in the Central African Republic last August. The United States said in January that Wagner fighters in the Central African Republic were involved in crimes such as “mass executions, rape, arbitrary detention, torture and displacement of civilians.”
“The fact that Prigozhin is still able to field arms contractors in Ukraine and at least three African countries, buy equipment from China and smuggle resources shows how resilient the network he built is,” said Marcel Plichta, a research fellow at the Center for Global Law. and Governance from the University of St Andrews.
According to US estimates in December, Wagner recruited 40,000 convicts to fight in Ukraine. According to a leaked U.S. intelligence report, Wagner unsuccessfully requested arms shipments from China earlier this year. Prigozhin said in February that Wagner had stopped recruiting prisoners.
Broker Expert’s Chinese supplier, Hangzhou Shinerain, is located in the eastern Zhejiang province and has 5 to 15 employees, according to its Alibaba site. It usually sells women’s clothing, which means that shipping protective headgear to Russia doesn’t seem like business as usual.
“We are a private company and we do not conduct national affairs or military matters and we abide by the law. We made helmets for games,” the company said, adding that the helmets would have little protective use on the battlefield. The Russian import declaration states that the helmets are “not for military use”.
The Chinese group said it had no knowledge of Prigozhin or the Wagner group, nor of Broker Expert’s ties to Wagner. “We simply follow the orders that come in and follow the law, we wouldn’t ship anything illegal.” He refused to explain what he meant by “player use” and refused to send photographs of the helmets to the FT.
CNN reported in January that Western intelligence officials were concerned about the Chinese companies transportation of non-lethal equipment It shipped jackets and helmets to Russia, but it was unclear whether China’s central government knew about the sales. Private Chinese companies are not bound by Western sanctions, and imports from China have surged in the past year as Russian companies seek alternatives to Western suppliers.
According to commercially available customs data, Broker Expert’s large purchase from China during the full-scale invasion of Ukraine was its first reported import into the country since 2017.
The company, which did not respond to comments, says on its website that it supplies equipment for geological research, industrial extraction and construction. It is not directly controlled by Prigozhin, but shares an obscure auditor with U.S.-sanctioned Wagner front companies in Syria, Sudan and the Central African Republic, as well as his mother’s St. Petersburg art gallery.
For the past four years, Broker Expert, which has not been sanctioned by any Western government, has regularly shipped equipment from Russia to companies in Sudan and Central Africa that have been sanctioned by the United States for being front lines for Wagner mercenary activity.
The FT reported earlier this year that Prigozhin, despite Western sanctions, made more than a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue from his overseas natural resources empire in the four years before Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“For the UK, US, France and others, the news that Prigozhin’s companies are still going strong after these measures highlights the need to work with as many countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia as possible to limit his access to global markets access. Plichta said.