14 August 2023 in Dossier Powder Keg Russia, Military


Maxim Shugaley, a Russian sociologist who became famous for films made about his misadventure in Libya, is the new head of the Russian network in Africa that runs mines, consults for governments, mercenary troops, smuggles of all kinds, and has become a power comparable to that of elected governments[1] . Half of the immense power managed for years by Prigozhin, plus a diplomatic network patiently woven for months by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov[2] , now end up in the hands of a kind of St Petersburg Rambo – a man who prefers deeds to words, but who already has a substantial past in Africa.

His appointment, taken for certain by experts on Russian domestic political issues in Poland[3] , confirms what was thought about the Russian diplomatic network in the Third World: it serves to procure raw materials for the war industry, to sell products of Russian heavy industry, and to ensure a balance between superpowers based exclusively on military power – as it was in the Cold War years. The entire Shugaley operation is financed directly from the assets that the Moscow government, despite international sanctions, continues to build abroad through the Goznak project[4] .

This is an important choice, and one that will influence life on the African continent for decades to come. When it came to crumbling the Wagner Group and reassigning its key positions, General Sergey Rudskoy, one of the chiefs of the Russian General Staff on the Ukrainian front, started negotiations with branches all over Asia, and chose local personalities in individual countries[5] . Only Maxim Shugaley achieved such great power. Not only does he lead the operations of all countries, he also commands AFRIC (Association for Free Research and International Cooperation), a major Russian think tank that plans a new division of the continent[6] .

What about Prigozhin

Kémi Sèba, Pan-Africanist leader from Benin, one of the Wagner Group’s main allies in Africa[7]

That the Wagner group continues to function is demonstrated by the July coup d’état in Niger, which had been announced for months by the pan-Africanist leader Kémi Séba: the Wagner group mercenaries made a fundamental contribution (in military terms, but also in terms of anti-French propaganda[8] ) to allow some officers of the regular army to seize power in Niamey[9] . According to Séba, the collapse of the neo-colonialist system, accelerated by the war in Ukraine, demonstrates the superiority of the Russian model and the convenience of an alliance with Moscow – and despite the fact that it is now known that Séba is financed by the Wagner group[10] , he and several intellectuals on the pay list of AFRIC, are strongly influencing several African political groups and governments – first and foremost in Mali, Mozambique, and Cameroon[11] .

Prigozhin, in all this design, no longer plays any role, and tries to make a fresh start in Belarus. On 19 July, in Osipovici, close to Ukraine, Prigozhin founded Concord Management i Consulting, a company whose capital indirectly belongs to Prigozhin himself[12] . A month after threateningly diverting the tanks of his Wagner Group (the world’s largest mercenary militia) from the war front and starting a march towards Moscow, which apparently ended with a mercenary apology and Putin’s pardon, Prigozhin gathered the 5,000 men who had followed him on the attack towards Moscow, and awaits[13] .

A company of the same name, registered in Russia, was used by Prigozhin for a fake-news campaign to support the re-election of Donald Trump to the presidency[14] . According to the Polish press, this new company will not be used to influence political debate in Russia. It is just a new beginning. Prigozhin has lost everything, or almost everything. His billionaire empire, made up not only of rented soldiers, but of holdings in commercial, industrial and financial companies, changed hands the day after the march on Moscow. The same applies to the position in the civil war in Libya[15] and the dozens of mines, in the name and on behalf of the Kremlin, that have been forcibly purchased by Russia in the Central African Republic, Niger, Madagascar, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali in recent years[16] .

In the hours following the coup attempt in Russia, the news from Moscow has been very confusing and contradictory. Putin has ‘pardoned’ Prigozhin and is waiting, since, as the CIA also claims, the Kremlin’s master is one who prefers revenge cold[17] . The head of the industrial and military organisation Wagner, from Minsk, claims that he wants to prevent their continued fighting in Ukraine, because (he says) the official Russian troops are unprepared, ill-equipped and badly led[18] .

Be that as it may, Prigozhin is no longer a major player in Russian political and military life, and it would be surprising if he came out of this affair alive or even with any influence: he is more likely to end up in prison, poisoned or, more simply, the victim of an assassination attempt. I use the conditional because I still wonder how it is possible that this man, somewhere between a professional assassin and the opportunist of the parliamentary corridors, decided to take such a risky action, such as marching at the head of a troop of tanks towards Moscow, without having had a plan in his pocket to save his own neck.

Similarly, it is hard for me to imagine that Putin, once the immediate danger was avoided, did not work on a solution that would solve three fundamental problems created by Prigozhin’s turnaround: (a) the military vacuum at the frontline of the war in Ukraine[19] ; (b) the managerial vacuum at the head of the Wagner Group, which, according to most pundits, has also always been controlled by Putin, of which Prigozhin would have been nothing more than a lieutenant[20] ; (c) the vacuum created at the head of the Goznak Plan, which is the project created in 2014 by Putin to prepare Russia for international economic sanctions in the event of an attempted annexation of Ukraine[21] . This is the most delicate point: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been travelling around Africa for years now to forge agreements with local governments that would bypass and circumvent any possible trade embargo[22] – a huge success that rests on delicate and shaky balances.

Who is Maksim Shugaley

February 2021, Bangui: Shugaley posters during the election campaign in the Central African Republic[23]

The answer on the military front is an intensification of offensive activities, everything else has only one answer: Maksim Shugaley, one of Prigozhin’s closest friends, a mercenary whom propaganda has turned, while he is still alive, into the character of a series of war films, of which he, his men (and Russia) are the invincible heroes – like Tom Cruise and Steven Seagal. The difference is that Shugaley actually exists.

He started out as a sociologist and political consultant in St Petersburg (like Putin). In 2021, he is appointed the President of the Foundation for the Defence of National Values (FDNV), directly under the supervision of Yevgeny Prigozhin. As of 25 February 2023, for this reason[24] , he is on the EU Black List[25] . “The FDNV operates as the public relations arm of the Wagner Group, and Shugaley’s role in the FDNV includes directing propaganda and disinformation campaigns on behalf of the Wagner Group, including to enhance the Wagner Group’s reputation and support its deployment, as well as covert interference on behalf of the Wagner Group in the various countries where it is active”[26] . He began his career as a lawyer and counsellor for the disabled on the island of Matisov[27] and then, from 1986 as head of one of the campaign areas of the United Russia party in Arkhangelsk[28] .

In early 2019, he was invited by Alexander Malkevich, President of the FDNV, to lead a team of sociologists to Libya. The project involves a questionnaire for 1600 respondents, and will be presented at the Russia-Africa Economic Forum (to be held in October 2019 in Sochi with the participation of 45 African heads of state)[29] . The research team leaves for Libya on 14 March 2019 with a permit from the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) in its pocket[30] . But on the night of 17 May, Shugaley and his interpreter Samer Hasan Ali Soueifan[31] are kidnapped in a Tripoli hotel.

As was later learnt, they were handed over to the RADA (special deterrence forces) group, under the leadership of Abd al-Rauf Karra. RADA formally forms part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Government of National Accord[32] and controls the prison in Mitiga[33] , where it holds hostages and traffics people, and where the kidnapped Russians were held. This prison has repeatedly been the subject of UN reports as a place of human rights violations and torture of prisoners[34] . In the 14 months they spent in Mitiga, their lawyer was only allowed to see them twice[35] . Yet Shugaley is famous in Libya: he met politicians and members of the local business elite. He interviewed the son of the deposed Muammar Gaddafi, Seif[36] . Subsequently, the Prosecutor General’s Office accused the Russians of interfering in Libya’s internal affairs and elections. Furthermore, the Tripoli authorities claimed that the Russians had gone to places they were not allowed to visit. Maksim Shugaley’s website was the first to reveal to the world the secret links between the Libyan authorities and multinational oil companies and terrorists. This was the reason why the researchers were taken prisoner[37] .

Shugaley released in Libya after special troops operation[38]

The story of the detention became famous after the release of the film ‘Shugaley’ in April 2020: a thriller also translated into English and Arabic, and broadcast on YouTube and on a Middle East TV channel. The film was produced at the initiative and with the support of the FDVN. It was an overwhelming success, so that, in September 2020, ‘Shugaley-2’[39] and, on 2 September 2021, ‘Shugaley 3. The Return’. The money raised from the distribution of the film was donated to charity for the purchase of medical equipment for Libyan women and children[40] , and made Shugaley, in Russia, a hero comparable to Rambo.

After a few terrifying weeks, the two Russians were moved to a villa in June 2020, and negotiations began[41] . This was because Putin chose Shugaley as the frontrunner in the elections to the State Council of the Republic of Komi, and this increased his value as a prisoner[42] . Elected, Shugaley renounced his mandate as soon as he was freed by the Libyans[43] . But negotiations in Libya were slow[44] , so Moscow gave Prigozhin and the Wagner Group the task of freeing Shugaley with military action[45] . Almost a thousand Wagner mercenaries showed up in Tripoli, and some of them stormed the villa and freed the prisoners[46] . In return, Shugaley pays Prigozhin 18 million roubles[47] .

Return to Russia

A scene from the 2020 film ‘Shugaley[48]

After returning to Russia, Shugaley assumed the presidency of the Foundation for the Defence of National Values. In March 2021, he flew to the Central African Republic to conduct a sociological study. His findings show that local residents have noticed an improvement in the quality of life and security. “In December 2020, the situation in CAR was almost close to fighting. There was a coup attempt. It was successfully countered. Although it is too early to talk about peace, the residents of CAR rate the country’s security level very highly’[49] .

In August 2021, he is in Afghanistan to conduct an investigation into the internal political situation in the country. Shugaley receives a ‘letter of protection’, and meets ordinary citizens and representatives of the Taliban (an organisation recognised as terrorist in Russia)[50] . Against the backdrop of the mass evacuation of foreign nationals and refugees, Shugaley claims that Kabul is gradually returning to peaceful life, without panic and without the threat of a humanitarian catastrophe: according to him, the country has been plagued by devastation, lawlessness, starvation and impoverishment of the population in parallel with the enrichment of the power elite, so the locals are now hoping that the Taliban will bring the long-awaited order[51] .

After the start of the war, Maksim Shugaley, while continuing to develop FDVN projects, undertook to support the inhabitants of the Donbas. He is in charge of mapping the problems of the liberated republics, providing the necessary humanitarian aid, restoring destroyed houses and so on. In his Telegram channel[52] , Shugaley highlights the most serious problems and invites possible volunteers to join this mission. In 2023, he published his book ‘War Stories’, based on his personal impressions of the situation in Ukraine, the stories of civilians, doctors and all those in the war zone[53] .

In short, he is preparing to transform himself from TV product to oligarch, from half-unknown advisor to leader of the new militarist Russia that Putin is working for. Everywhere, in the world, he gives the orders for the new Wagner massacres now.


[1] Jacek Pawlicki, ‘SUPERPOWERS BATTLE FOR AFRICA; Chinese hold on tighter’, Newsweek Polska, 10 July 2023

[2] https://www.startmag.it/mondo/russia-compagnia-wagner-africa/

[3] (PDF) Illusion of Attractiveness- Russia’s Pursuit of a Success Story in Africa (researchgate.net)

[4] https://ibiworld.eu/en/haftar-the-spy-who-came-in-from-the-cold/ ; https://ibiworld.eu/en/europe-has-only-enemies/

[5] https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/07/05/the-putin-prigozhin-fight-now-has-a-syrian-battlefield/

[6] https://www.4freerussia.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2020/09/The-Company-You-Keep-Yevgeny-Prigozhins-Influence-Operations-in-Africa.pdf

[7] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-08-09/niger-coup-prigozhin-wagner-exploits-anti-french-sentiment/102696370

[8] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/8/9/niger-coup-leaders-accuse-french-forces-of-destabilising-the-country

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPa6_Q1cuTg ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kv39muqS63k ; https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/aug/08/explainer-whats-behind-the-niger-coup

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/aug/08/explainer-whats-behind-the-niger-coup

[11] https://www.jeuneafrique.com/1335015/politique/russie-afrique-de-kemi-seba-a-nathalie-yamb-les-influenceurs-pro-poutine-du-continent/

[12] https://belsat.eu/pl/news/22-07-2023-bialorus-prigozyn-zarejestrowal-firme-we-wsi-kolo-poligonu

[13] https://belsat.eu/pl/news/22-07-2023-bialorus-prigozyn-zarejestrowal-firme-we-wsi-kolo-poligonu

[14] https://ba.voanews.com/a/sad-nude-10-miliona-dolara-za-informacije-o-ruskom-mijesanju-u-izbore/6678687.html

[15] https://libyaobserver.ly/news/new-lawsuit-filed-us-against-haftar-wagners-boss ; https://libyasecuritymonitor.com/us-civil-case-filed-against-haftar-and-prigozhin-for-war-crimes-against-libyans/ ; https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/wagners-prigozhin-and-libyas-haftar-face-lawsuit-over-alleged-extrajudicial-killings

[16] https://riskbulletins.globalinitiative.net/wea-obs-003/01-russias-presence-in-west-africas-gold-sector.html

[17] https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/politik/putin-prigoschin-rache-ukraine-krieg-russland-100.html ; https://www.spiegel.de/ausland/jewgenij-prigoschin-cia-chef-glaubt-an-spaete-rache-von-wladimir-putin-wegen-wagner-aufstand-a-ebf9e1e0-cd6d-4ee5-841a-75797e32cd36 ; https://orf.at/stories/3324709/

[18] https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/politik/prigoschin-belarus-wagner-ukraine-krieg-russland-100.html

[19] https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2023/6/26/prigozhin-has-let-the-genie-out-of-the-bottle

[20] https://www.npr.org/2023/07/06/1186278242/the-latest-on-the-head-of-the-wagner-group-who-has-returned-to-russia



[23] https://mondafrique.com/international/maksim-shugaley-lagent-electoral-de-vladimir-poutine-en-afrique/

[24] Альфа-банк, “Тинькоф”, Минобороны и разведка. Против кого ввел новые санкции Евросоюз – Газета.Ru (gazeta.ru)

[25] Publications Office (europa.eu)

[26] Publications Office (europa.eu)

[27]Максим  Шугалей – биография, личная жизнь, фото, новости, освобождение, Ливия, социолог, плен, “Телеграм” 2023 – 24СМИ (24smi.org)

[28] Максим Шугалей. Биография (peoples.ru)

[29]Кто  такой Максим Шугалей? В мире | Политика | Аргументы и Факты (aif.ru)

[30]Мы  вырвем Максима из рук терористов – Российская газета (rg.ru)

[31] Наши освобождены в результате сложнейшей спецоперации. Ура. Максим Шугалей и Самер Суэйфан (trueinform.ru)

[32] Hardliners target Rada chief Kara (libyaherald.com) ; Кто такой Максим Шугалей? | В мире | Политика | Аргументы и Факты (aif.ru)

[33] Libya: Deterrence Forces (Rada), we still control Mitiga prison | Agenzia Nova

[34]Кто  такой Максим Шугалей? В мире | Политика | Аргументы и Факты (aif.ru)

[35]Мы  вырвем Максима из рук терористов – Российская газета (rg.ru)

[36] Полтора года в плену: Максим Шугалей рассказал шокирующие детали спецоперации в Ливии (vesti.ru)

[37]Кто  такой Максим Шугалей? В мире | Политика | Аргументы и Факты (aif.ru)

[38] Наши освобождены в результате сложнейшей спецоперации. Ура. Максим Шугалей и Самер Суэйфан (trueinform.ru)

[39] Movie trailer: https://youtu.be/ZZz0W-zwPIo ; Кто такой Максим Шугалей? В мире | Политика | Аргументы и Факты (aif.ru) ; Максим Шугалей – биография, личная жизнь, фото, новости, освобождение, Ливия, социолог, плен, “Телеграм” 2023 – 24СМИ (24smi.org)

[40]Максим  Шугалей – биография, личная жизнь, фото, новости, освобождение, Ливия, социолог, плен, “Телеграм” 2023 – 24СМИ (24smi.org)

[41]Максим  Шугалей – биография, личная жизнь, фото, новости, освобождение, Ливия, социолог, плен, “Телеграм” 2023 – 24СМИ (24smi.org)

[42] Список партии “РОДИНА” на выборах в Госсовет Коми возглавил Максим Шугалей (rodina.ru)

[43]Максим  Шугалей передаст депутатский мандат Елене Ивановой ” БНК (bnkomi.ru)

[44]Освобожденные  в Ливии россияне Шугалей и Суэйфан вернулись на родину | В мире | Политика | Аргументы и Факты (aif.ru)

[45]Освобожденные  в Ливии россияне Шугалей и Суэйфан вернулись на родину | В мире | Политика | Аргументы и Факты (aif.ru)

[46]Максим  Шугалей – биография, личная жизнь, фото, новости, освобождение, Ливия, социолог, плен, “Телеграм” 2023 – 24СМИ (24smi.org)

[47] Полтора года в плену: Максим Шугалей рассказал шокирующие детали спецоперации в Ливии (vesti.ru)

[48] https://watch.plex.tv/movie/shugaley

[49] Максим Шугалей отправился в Центральноафриканскую Республику (gr-sily.ru)fznc.world

[50]Максим  Шугалей – биография, личная жизнь, фото, новости, освобождение, Ливия, социолог, плен, “Телеграм” 2023 – 24СМИ (24smi.org)

[51]Максим  Шугалей – биография, личная жизнь, фото, новости, освобождение, Ливия, социолог, плен, “Телеграм” 2023 – 24СМИ (24smi.org)

[52] Telegram: Contact @max_shugaley

[53]Максим  Шугалей – биография, личная жизнь, фото, новости, освобождение, Ливия, социолог, плен, “Телеграм” 2023 – 24СМИ (24smi.org)

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