An infamous Russian private military contractor tried to purchase arms from Turkey, a member of NATO, to use them in Russia’s war on Ukraine, The Washington Post reported, citing classified US documents recently leaked online.
According to the report, Kremlin-backed Wagner Group personnel “met with Turkish contacts to purchase weapons and equipment from Turkey for Wagner’s efforts in Mali and Ukraine” in early February.
NATO member Turkey, which has maintained good relations with both Kyiv and Moscow, has opposed blanket Western sanctions on Russia, saying it must pursue its own policy in order to protect its interests.
However, according to The Washington Post, the leaked papers do not clarify what the Turkish government may have known about the efforts by Wagner or if they “proved fruitful.”
The New York Times has also reported based on the leaked documents that emissaries from Wagner secretly met with “Turkish contacts” in February, slipping onto NATO territory in search of weapons and equipment for its fight in Ukraine.
Officials from the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not immediately comment on the revelation.
The document discussing the meeting in Turkey suggested, according to The New York Times, that the West African nation of Mali, where Wagner has set up a significant outpost, could serve as a proxy and acquire the weapons from Turkey on Wagner’s behalf.
“The choice of Mali as a fig leaf for such an arms smuggling operation shows just how influential Wagner has become since it first established a presence in that country a few years ago, working to provide security for a military junta that took over in 2021. Another document, citing a Wagner employee, said there were more than 1,645 Wagner personnel in Mali, which the document said had sparked security concerns in neighboring Ivory Coast,” the NYT said.
Ankara has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying that it fully supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Ukraine has bought dozens of Bayraktar TB2 armed drones from Turkish company Baykar in recent years, in particular following the Russian invasion in February 2022, which were initially said to have played a significant role in the war in Ukraine and achieved celebrity status in the war-stricken country, with songs even dedicated to them.
Although the Bayraktar TB2 drones were initially lauded as a useful tool in the Ukrainian military’s arsenal, Russia, which has a significantly stronger and larger army, claims to have destroyed dozens of them.
It is not known whether the Wagner Group sought to purchase Bayraktar drones from Turkey, which have been sold to numerous countries around the world.
Baykar’s CEO, Haluk Bayraktar, who runs the company with his brother, Selçuk, the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said in an interview with CNN International in July that it was out of the question for his company to supply Russia with the Bayraktar TB2 drones.
When pressed by CNN presenter Julia Chatterley, who repeatedly asked, “Would you supply Russia?” Bayraktar responded: “We have not delivered or supplied them with anything, [and] we will as well never do such a thing because we support Ukraine, support its sovereignty, its resistance for its independence.”
Meanwhile, the leaked documents also say that Malian leader Assimi Goïta “had confirmed that Mali could acquire weapons from Turkey on Wagner’s behalf.”
“But the revelation that a NATO ally may have been assisting Russia in its war on Ukraine could prove explosive, particularly as Turkey has sought to block the addition of Sweden into the ranks of the trans-Atlantic military alliance,” says The Washington Post report.
Finland and Sweden dropped a decades-long policy of military non-alignment and applied to join the Western alliance last May in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
They initially hoped to join together after their applications were accepted at a June NATO summit.
But both countries have been accused by Ankara of harboring “terrorists.”
The Nordic neighbors have also been accused by Erdoğan of breaking the terms of a deal under which Turkey agreed to approve their bids.
The Turkish leader voiced particular displeasure with Sweden — a country with a larger Kurdish diaspora and a longer history of disputes with Ankara.
Finland became the 31st member of NATO earlier this month after Turkey’s parliament voted to approve its application in March.
Sweden’s application is still pending due to objections from Turkey and Hungary.
The Pentagon launched an investigation after The New York Times reported that classified documents detailing US and NATO plans for supplying arms to Ukraine for the upcoming counteroffensive were posted last week on Twitter and Telegram.
Ukrainian military intelligence said the classified war documents leaked online were forged by Russia.
Russia or pro-Russian elements are likely behind the leak, undisclosed US officials also told Reuters on April 7.
The Wagner Group, Russia’s most high-profile mercenary outfit, was founded by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Along with the Russian military, the group has taken part in the battles for Soledar and Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast.
The Wagner Group has been accused of human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial killings, in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mozambique.
In January the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Wagner Group as a “significant transnational criminal organization” and imposed sanctions on its support network worldwide.