On Monday NBC news reported "Russian documents reveal desire to sow racial discord and violence in the US." The claim is that these documents are communications between associates of Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is described as a "Kremlin linked oligarch indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller." The documents were obtained by the Dossier Center, a London based investigative project funded by exiled Russian opposition leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky. NBC News admitted they have not independently verified the documents.
These communications, which NBC says are light on detail, suggest a plan to recruit African Americans and transport them to camps in Africa "for combat prep and training in sabotage."
The plan, entitled "Development Strategy of a Pan-African State on U.S. Territory," proposed to recruit poor and disenfranchised African Americans "who have experience in organized crime groups" and members of "radical black movements for participation in civil disobedience actions."
After the training in Africa, they would be sent back to America with hopes of them fomenting violence and working to develop a pan-African state in the South. The goal is to "destabilize the internal situation in the US."
The Internet Research Agency is one of the companies Robert Mueller indicted in 2018. The indictment claimed the IRA is "a Russian organization engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes."
Prigozhin was one of the 13 Russians indicted by Mueller in 2018. He owns half of the company, Concord Management and Consulting, which the indictment claimed "CONCORD was the ORGANIZATION’s primary source of funding for its interference operations."
According to the indictment, "PRIGOZHIN approved and supported the Organization’s operations, and Defendants and their co-conspirators were aware of PRIGOZHIN’s role." The only example they use to support this claim is a strange one. Apparently, IRA members through an IRA controlled social media account arranged for a "real US person" to hold a sign "on or around May 29, 2016", that read "Happy 55th Birthday Dear Boss." The indictment then goes on to reveal that Prigozhin’s date of birth is June 1st, 1961. That is the only example they use to say he was controlling the IRA.
Prigozhin made his money in the restaurant business, starting a hot dog stand in the 1990s with his step-father, he went on to open a high-end waterfront restaurant called New Island. It was at New Island in 2001 where then newly elected president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, met Prigozhin and was personally served by him. In 2002 Putin dined at New Island with President George W. Bush, and reportedly celebrated his birthday there a year later. This is how Prigozhin earned the nickname "Putin’s Chef," a nickname the NBC article makes out to be far more devious.
In 2008 Prigozhin won the contract to cater Dmitry Medvedev’s presidential inauguration, in 2010 he began supplying Russian schools with food and from 2010-2012 he had a contract to supply the Russian military with food.
While it is possible Prigozhin funded the IRA with hopes of benefiting Putin and other Russian politicians, and even if corruption is what led him to getting those government contracts, there is no direct evidence linking the Kremlin with the IRA.
The 2018 indictment claimed that the IRA targeted African Americans during the run up to the 2016 elections, running ads like "Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote" and "You know, a great number of black people support us saying that #HillaryClintonIsNotMyPresident." They also created Facebook pages targeting African Americans urging them to vote third party, but trying to recruit African Americans for combat training would be a radical leap from Facebook posts and advertisements.
There is no evidence to suggest the IRA was trying to actually influence the election or if they were just capitalizing on the political strife already occurring in the US at the time. They also purchased advertisements to promote pro Hillary events, such as the "Support Hillary. Save American Muslims" rally.
Some of the documents were reported to have been sent by Dzheykhun Aslanov, one of the Russians indicted in 2018 and an employee of the IRA. Mikhail Potepkin, another Russian named in the story, reportedly received the plan and shared it with more people. Potepkin was not indicted in 2018 and was only described in the story as a "Russian businessman." Further research shows Potepkin is the business partner of Anna Bogacheva, an employee of the IRA for a short time in 2014 and one of the 13 indicted.
The documents were supposedly verified by the Dossier Center. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who funds the Dossier Center, was once the richest man in Russia. Khodorkovsky was arrested for fraud in 2003, sentenced to prison and pardoned in 2014. Supporters of Khodorkovsky say he was prosecuted because he had funded some opposition groups in Russia. After his pardon Khodorkovsky left Russia and now resides in the UK. According to Khodorkovsky’s website, the Dossier Center "tracks the criminal activity of various people associated with the Kremlin," and makes the claim "Currently, power in Russia is held by a de facto criminal organization that operates from within Kremlin."
The article quotes Andrei Soldatov, an "expert" on Russian intelligence and author of The Red Web, a book on Russian information warfare, "They come up with pitches, some of them very ambitious. They discuss many possible ideas and then send the pitches to the Kremlin to be authorized or rejected. It’s their modus operandi." No evidence in the article backs up this claim that the Kremlin authorizes or rejects any of these plans.
This irresponsible reporting from NBC News does nothing but stoke Russian xenophobia that is so common in America today. The documents have not been verified by NBC, were supplied by a group with a known political agenda, were "light on detail" and only two Russians were actually named as senders and receivers of the communications. Prigozhin himself was not even mentioned as somebody who sent or received the communications.
The article is presented in typical Russiagate reporting fashion, throw a few Russian names around, add the word Kremlin, make some wild claims with little to no evidence, quote a few "experts" and call anyone who challenges you a Russian agent.
Dave DeCamp is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn NY, focusing on US Foreign policy and wars. He is on Twitter at @decampdave.