Top Russian general benefited from Kremlin-linked Syrian mining operation, probe finds
The Russian general overseeing the war on Ukraine has benefited from lucrative deals involving his wife’s businesses, Syrian phosphate mines and shady payments from a Kremlin-linked businessman, a new investigation has found.
The findings of investigators from the organization of jailed opposition activist Aleksei Navalny add to the public image of General Sergei Surovikin, who commanded Russian operations in Syria in the late 2010s and has earned the nickname ” General Armageddon” for his reputation for brutality. the.
President Vladimir Putin appointed Surovikin the overall commander of Russian forces in Ukraine on October 8, as part of a bid by the Kremlin and the Defense Ministry to get the war effort back on track after numerous setbacks.
On November 9, Surovikin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced a withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnieper to the Kherson region, the latest in a series of major battlefield casualties that emboldened Ukrainian troops.
The investigation, released Nov. 10, highlights the continued efforts of Navalny’s associates, who have pushed forward his branding projects even after he was jailed last year. An organization he founded, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, has produced several investigative reports on the origins of wealth and property among people close to Putin. It was declared “extremist” by the state and banned in Russia, also last year.
Many of these associates were forced to flee Russia before or after the February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
New investigation says Surovikin may have benefited financially during and after his tenure as commander of Russian forces in Syria, due to a convoluted arrangement involving Gennady Timchenko, a Kremlin-linked businessman who made billions in the drug trade oil and energy through a company called Gunvor.
Timchenko’s companies “have been directly linked to Putin”, according to the US Treasury Departmentand “Putin has investments in Gunvor and may have access to Gunvor funds.”
As part of the arrangement detailed by Navalny investigators, a construction company owned by Timchenko called Stroytransgaz gained access to two Syrian phosphate mining operations near Palmyra called Al-Sharqiya and Khneifis.
Stroytransgaz began mining phosphates – which are used in fertilizers, among other things – in the summer of 2017, about two years after Russia stepped up its military intervention in Syria to bolster the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad.
That same December, Surovikin, who assumed overall command of Russia’s Syrian campaign in early 2017, was show on Russian television informing Putin of the release of Al-Sharqiya and Khneifis as Putin made an unannounced visit to Syria.
Surovikin left his command of the Syrian campaign soon after, when Putin appointed him commander-in-chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces, which includes the air force.
Navalny investigators say a Stroytransgaz subsidiary called STG Logistika provided 104 million rubles in loans to a logging company called Argus SFK in 2020-21, or about $2 million based on exchange rates at the time. . The company, based in Russia’s Sverdlovsk region, was co-founded by Surovikin’s wife, along with the daughter of a man who served as regional governor, Aleksandr Misharin.
In addition, according to the investigation, the wife of a senior Stroytransgaz executive also granted Argus SFK a loan of 25 million rubles (about $412,000).
The Navalny team alleges that the loan served as payment to Surovikin for business conducted during the Syrian operation.
Neither the Russian Defense Ministry nor Stroytransgaz or Timchenko’s holding companies responded to requests for comment.
The findings of Navalny’s investigators appear to be based largely on company and real estate records.
Earlier this month, Russia’s state property registry abruptly restricted access to records of Surovikin’s family and relatives, declaring them classified.
Navalny himself was arrested in Moscow in January 2021 upon his return from Germany, where he was treated for exposure to a Soviet-era nerve agent that nearly killed him. He says the evidence shows the poisoning was carried out by Federal Security Service agents acting at Putin’s request.
Navalny was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for violating the terms of an earlier parole while recovering abroad. In March 2022, he was sentenced in a separate case to nine years for embezzlement and contempt. He and his supporters argue that these charges and previous cases against him are absurd and politically motivated.
He is being held in a prison in central Russia.