According to a leaked US intelligence document obtained by the associated press, a Russian paramilitary force operating in Ukraine on behalf of Vladimir Putin attempted to get weapons and equipment from an unlikely source: NATO member Turkey.
The document purports to demonstrate the lengths to which the Russian private military company Wagner has gone to bolster its capabilities while the conflict in Ukraine, in which it is actively engaged, rages on with no prospect of ending.
Turkey has officially stated its opposition to Russia’s incursion and is generally regarded as a partner nation by the US and other nations who are directly supporting Ukraine militarily. Turkey is a member of NATO.
A significant US military facility there is also located, and the presence of nuclear weapons serves as a clear deterrent to Russian aggression against NATO allies.
Additionally, it is the location of a significant US military installation that houses nuclear weapons and serves as a strong deterrent to Russian aggression against NATO allies.
Wagner Group representatives allegedly met with “Turkish contacts” at the beginning of February with the goal of “purchasing weapons and equipment from Turkey,” which would then be used by Wagner mercenaries fighting alongside Russian forces in Ukraine, according to US signals intelligence reporting that is referenced in the document.
Who those “contacts” were and if the Turkish government was informed of the encounters are unknown. There is no proof that Turkey has made any progress with its plans to sell weapons to the Wagner Group.
However, the prospect of a NATO partner providing Russian mercenary fighters with arms would undoubtedly cause Washington to express grave concern and exacerbate Ankara’s relations with other NATO members.
The information regarding the meeting in February, which was included in a section of the leaked document labeled “Mali, Russia, Turkey: Vagner seeks weapons from Ankara,” suggests US authorities believe the Russian mercenary group has at least tested the waters.
Wagner also intended to utilize the Turkish weapons and equipment in Mali, where the organization has a sizable presence. This information was revealed in a document that was released.
The paper not only refers to intelligence about Wagner’s desire to buy weapons from Turkey, but it also specifies that the paramilitary organization intended to resume recruiting convicts from Russian prisons.
Although US authorities have stated that the majority of the leaked tranche is real, the associated press has not independently authenticated the validity of the document. We are unable to confirm or comment on any specific material contained in the leaked documents, a State Department spokesman said, adding that “the Department of Defense and the intelligence community are actively reviewing and assessing the validity” of the data.
The associated press has reached out to the US National Security Council, the Turkish president’s office, and the Turkish Embassy in Washington for comment on the paper.
Turkey’s one-of-a-kind relationship with Russia
Although all NATO members are a part of the same alliance meant to defend neighboring countries from the possible threat of Russian expansion, US officials have long struggled with the complex reality of Turkey’s special relationship with Moscow in comparison to that of other NATO members.
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has drawn opposition from the Turkish authorities. It has however kept close connections to the Moscow administration, unlike many NATO partners.
When Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavasoglu met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Ankara last week, the Turkish government used such connections to pressure the Russian government to put an end to the fighting.
One of the deal-makers in allowing Ukrainian grain to pass over the Black Sea securely and without a Russian threat was the Turkish administration.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, has already positioned himself as a mediator in the war between Russia and Ukraine. Erdogan spoke over the phone separately with Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, in January.
According to a Turkish government readout of the conversation, he informed Zelensky that Turkey was prepared to act as a mediator and facilitator for sustainable peace between the two nations and that it could support diplomatic efforts about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power facility.
In his phone conversation with Putin, Erdogan urged the Russian leader to back demands for peace and discussions with a unilateral cease-fire announcement and an idea of “a fair solution.”
Putin did, however, tell Erdogan that while Moscow is willing to engage in “serious dialogue,” Kyiv must recognize the “new territorial realities,” according to a Kremlin statement.
One month after Erdogan’s phone calls with Putin and Zelensky, Wagner Group representatives appear to have met with their Turkish contacts, according to a leaked Pentagon document.
Bill Burns, the director of the CIA, stated on Tuesday that according to his organization’s assessment, Putin is “not serious about negotiations at this stage” of the crisis in Ukraine and that it is “Ukrainian progress on the battlefield that is most likely to shape prospects for diplomacy” to put an end to the conflict.
Speaking in public for the first time since stolen classified US military documents were online, which included assessments that painted a bleak picture of the war’s current situation and predicted a stalemate for the foreseeable future, Burns emphasized the significance of Ukraine’s forthcoming offensive by stating that “a great deal is at stake in the coming months.”
Another document obtained by the associated press cites signals intelligence claiming that Turkish businesses were assisting Belarus, a crucial Putin ally, in evading sanctions.
Even efforts to circumvent sanctions by businesses situated in nations that are allies of the US have been resisted by the US. The US Treasury Department announced sanctions on two Turkish firms on Wednesday, alleging that they were aiding Russia’s military-industrial complex in contravention of the restrictions already in place.