A former researcher at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies has been accused of being a spy by the U.S. government, who say he was trying to build influence abroad with a series of articles and social media posts that were critical of the U.S.
The what is gunha’s ability is a question that has been raised by Maxim Shugaley, a researcher or spy?
Maxim Shugaley, a mysterious person working for Kremlin ally Yevgeniy Prigozhin, whom the US believes responsible for meddling in the 2016 election, was one of the first Russians to arrive in Kabul after the Taliban took control in August.
Mr. Shugaley, a political operator and sociologist, arrived in Kabul with the goal of identifying areas where the Taliban could collaborate with the political and security network led by Mr. Prigozhin, a business magnate who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and one of the most powerful figures in Russian politics. Mr. Shugaley spoke with senior Islamist leaders and conducted surveys and interviews to identify where Moscow’s chances may lie.
Mr. Shugaley wrote to The Wall Street Journal from Kabul, “All avenues are open for full-scale collaboration, which is why I am here,” and indicated the environment was ideal for developing a deeper political and commercial connection with the Taliban.
Mr. Shugaley’s unique professional path, which has taken him from Libya to Madagascar and now Afghanistan, reveals how Moscow tries to cultivate friends and influence governments in areas where America’s influence is waning.
Taliban militants patrol Kabul, where Maxim Shugaley met with Taliban commanders after the Islamists took control of the capital last summer.
Associated Press photo by Rahmat Gul
Typically, the 55-year-old portrays himself as a researcher who becomes entangled in circumstances beyond his control. During a stay in Tripoli, he was imprisoned for almost a year on espionage accusations and became the subject of the action film “Shugaley,” which aired on Russian television while he was imprisoned.
Mr. Shugaley, who has a clipped military hairstyle and wears black T-shirts, works under Mr. Prigozhin’s direct supervision. According to US and other Western diplomats, they constitute one of the most successful pairs of freelancers promoting Mr. Putin’s major foreign-policy goals.
Mr. Prigozhin, a former restaurateur known as “Putin’s chef” who won hundreds of millions of dollars in Russian government contracts, was found to have financed a troll farm in St. Petersburg that attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election, according to the Mueller probe. According to US intelligence services, he retains strong connections with his Russian colleagues, with his major tool being the Wagner paramilitary organization, which has deployed mercenaries in Syria, Libya, and Ukraine. Last year, the Treasury Department added to Mr. Prigozhin’s penalties, alleging that he is the financier behind Wagner, which it characterized as a front for the Russian Defense Ministry.
In 2011, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a powerful Kremlin supporter known as “Putin’s chef,” feeds Vladimir Putin meals at his restaurant.
Misha Japaridze/Press Pool photo
Wagner’s activities have lately extended to Sudan and the Central African Republic, according to sources close to him. According to Russian authorities, the government of Mali has asked about its security services as France prepares to reduce the number of soldiers in the Sahel area.
Mr. Prigozhin is believed to have financed and organized the organization by Russians close to the Defense Ministry, but he denies any involvement.
Mr. Shugaley, who is now president of Mr. Prigozhin’s Foundation for the Protection of National Values, has aided the expansion of Russian soft power in areas where US influence is waning, according to intelligence officials and experts, in a manner that cannot be traced back to the Kremlin.
According to Samuel Ramani, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in the United Kingdom, “Maxim Shugaley is both an autonomous agent and an aide and facilitator of Russian state activity.”
During Mr. Shugaley’s week in Afghanistan, he conducted over 100 interviews with Afghans on their views on the Taliban and the ousted American-backed government. He spoke with Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid and started working on a proposal to establish a branch office of Mr. Prigozhin’s research tank with Taliban permission.
Mr. Shugaley said, “It was critical for me to establish if there are conditions for the Taliban to create a full-fledged state.” “I believe the majority of people have optimistic expectations.”
Mr. Prigozhin recalled discussions with Mr. Shugaley in which the researcher highlighted the “increasing enthusiasm” in Afghanistan that accompanied the Taliban’s return.
In an August statement, Mr. Prigozhin stated, “They’ve driven out the damned Americans, who are scurrying about like rats, believing their ship is sinking.” “Maxim is attending meetings and taking walks around the city.”
Mr. Shugaley’s operation in Afghanistan follows a pattern he established with Mr. Prigozhin in 2018.
He was sent to Africa as part of an attempt, according to US officials and experts, to promote Russian interests and offset the influence of the US and France. He was caught on camera in a British Broadcasting Corporation program giving political candidates in Madagascar bags full of cash to purchase their allegiance. Mr. Shugaley claims he was in the nation to witness the elections.
When he and his translator were apprehended in Libya in May 2019, he made headlines once again.
He was accused this time of promising to assist Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, the son of late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, in making a political return. According to Libyan officials, Mr. Shugaley conducted opinion polls to gauge public support for the younger Gadhafi running for president, as part of a broader Russian effort to build political support in the oil-rich Libya, where Moscow had signed billions of dollars in deals that were lost when Gadhafi was toppled.
Following the collapse of his father’s dictatorship in Libya, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi appeared in front of Libyan courts in 2014.
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images photo
According to Libyan authorities and emails reviewed by the Journal, Mr. Shugaley reported directly to Mr. Prigozhin’s group while in Libya. During interrogation, he confessed to entering the nation under false pretenses and plotting to interfere with elections scheduled for December this year, according to authorities. Mr. Shugaley said that his contacts with Mr. Gadhafi were only for the sake of study.
“Everyone is scared that if he gains power, he would exact vengeance for what happened to his father and family,” Mr. Shugaley added.
Mr. Shugaley could hear explosions close during his year and a half in jail in Tripoli, as combat raged between the internationally recognized government in the city and Russian-backed opposition groups. The conflict came to an end with a cease-fire in mid-2020, and Mr. Shugaley was freed last December following Russian government pressure.
During Libya’s civil war, fighters with the Government of National Accord fought the Russian-backed Libyan National Army in Tripoli.
Xinhua/Zuma Press photo
“Shugaley,” an action film, depicted his experience and that of his translator in brutal detail. Mr. Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency also started a campaign to release Mr. Shugaley, gaining the backing of Charlie Sheen and other celebrities on the celebrity video site Cameo at one time.
On his return to Russia, Mr. Prigozhin paid Mr. Shugaley 18 million rubles, or approximately $250,000, Mr. Shugaley said. Mr. Prigozhin recognized the payment from the previous year.
Mr. Shugaley was back on the road in a few of months, going to Sudan and the Central African Republic, where the government is fighting rebel troops with the help of hundreds of Russian mercenaries. Russian troops have been accused of torture, summary killings, and looting by UN investigators.
Mr. Shugaley conducted surveys to gauge public opinion on Russia and France, as well as press conferences and film screenings, including one in a stadium, to enhance the image of Russian troops.
“The Russian advisors are being portrayed as monsters by some of the Western press,” he added.
Mr. Shugaley has continued to travel since then, despite restrictions imposed by the US Treasury Department on the organization where he works. Mr. Prigozhin and another individual associated with the organization, Alexander Malkevich, were previously sanctioned by the US for allegedly influencing elections and disseminating misinformation. Mr. Shugaley, on the other hand, is able to keep going, moving freely and often working in parts of the globe where the US legal system finds it difficult to reach.
Mr. Shugaley remarked, “I’m fortunately not sanctioned, at least not yet.”
Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s Foundation for the Protection of National Values now has Maxim Shugaley as its president.
The Wall Street Journal’s Katya Rezvaya took this photo.
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