Dogs of the West are ready to kill.
This is a brief summary of the Russian headlines that sprung and spread like wildfire across Russian media outlets on August 16. Just a few days prior to the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the infamous head of Wagner mercenaries, the largest Russian news agencies—TASS, RIA Novosti, and Interfax—simultaneously claimed that the British Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6, trained a “punitive squad” of 100 “militants from Ukrainian nationalist groups” to send them on a mission in Africa. The news was attributed to an unnamed military-diplomatic source.
This intricate web of narratives meticulously spun by Russia aimed to tarnish Ukraine’s reputation and foster skepticism about the motives of the Western nations that provide Kyiv with military aid. Although the story was not picked up by the majority of foreign outlets (and later overshadowed by Wagner leader’s death and its implications), the Kremlin is likely to continue to push the narratives it highlighted.
Expendables and Colonizers
“According to information, confirmed by several sources, UK special service MI-6 has formed and prepared for deployment on the southern continent a sabotage and assassination squad, comprising members of Ukrainian nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, in an attempt to prevent cooperation between African countries and Russia,” TASS quoted the military diplomatic source as saying, without presenting any further proof.
Articles went on to claim that in July, London instructed Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Military Intelligence Service (HUR), and the Defense Ministry to help MI-6 and the British Special Air Service (SAS) to select 100 militants from Ukrainian nationalist groups with “vast combat experience ‘on the eastern front.’”
“The task of the Ukrainian squad, formed by the British special services, will be to carry out sabotage attacks at infrastructure facilities in Africa and to assassinate African leaders eyeing cooperation with Russia,” the source said.
“Lt. Col. of HUR of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry V. Prashchuk was appointed to be the commander of the Ukrainian squad of cutthroats,” the source added.
The news was picked up by virtually every Russian outlet, while the agencies also posted abbreviated article versions on their English language websites.
The pieces were primarily targeting the Russian domestic audience; the level of detail and the loaded language used in the original articles did not make it into the English language pieces, some of which included factual mistakes due to incorrect translation and liberal use of previous statements. Nevertheless, authors managed to stitch at least five different narratives together that can be pushed in different parts of the world:
1. Ukraine exhibits a readiness to extend the ongoing conflict beyond its borders.
2. “Ukrainian Nazis” are a potential threat to other countries.
3. Both Ukraine and the collective West disregard African nations’ sovereignty.
4. Ukraine has to reciprocate Western military assistance by employing its forces for foreign covert operations.
5. The West sees Ukrainian forces as expendable assets.
These narratives were pushed further by analysis pieces and interviews with experts that followed the news release.
On August 16, the Russian newspaper Argumenty i Fakty (Arguments and Facts) delved into the implications of the news in two segments. One article, titled Dogs of the West, speculated about potential targets for the Ukrainian “punishers,” suggesting that states with smaller armed forces, currently engaged against insurgents or extremists, could be vulnerable, particularly in the Sahel region (Niger, Mali, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso).
Another piece featured insights from Ivan Konovalov, referred to as both a military expert and political scientist. Konovalov, a former reporter who is often quoted by Russian state media, argued that stakes are high for MI6 in Ukraine.
“It is extremely important for them to persuade the British public that a certain victory is taking place,” he argued. “Therefore, the British special services are expanding the area of their anti-Russian sabotage actions, including to Africa.”
Konovalov asserted that the confrontation extended beyond Russia versus the West to a clash between the collective West and East, “which mostly sided with Russia.”
On August 19, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova offered her perspective during a regular briefing. She suggested that MI6’s involvement in the planning and execution of attacks on Russia signaled their intention to utilize Ukrainian forces for missions worldwide, particularly where British influence was waning. Zakharova criticized London for meddling in the internal affairs of African nations, while asserting that Ukraine’s involvement was driven by financial motives.
“We can state that London is still frantically clinging on to its colonial heritage and seeking to keep the countries on the continent in a dependent position, whatever the cost. The British do not want to treat them as equals and, as before, think it possible to meddle in their internal affairs. As for the Zelensky regime, money is the only thing they want. Obviously, the Ukrainian soldiers involved in these machinations are a fee of sorts that Kiev pays to the West for its military aid,” Zakharova said.
What stood out in the news coverage was that many commentators downplayed the potential impact of the alleged activities of MI6 and Ukraine.
For instance, “a military expert and veteran of Russia’s elite Alpha counterterror special forces unit” Sergey Goncharov, ridiculed MI6, suggesting that their efforts would likely have minimal effect beyond propaganda.
“If [the MI6] hopes that the special forces allegedly sent from Ukraine will solve the ‘problem’ of Niger, this, I think, is simply laughable. I don’t think they’re needed there at all,” Goncharov said.
Meanwhile, the head of the Commonwealth of Officers for International Security, Alexander Ivanov, who is the official representative of Russian military trainers (aka Wagner) in CAR, said in a statement that elimination of pro-Russian African leaders was “nearly impossible” since their security is guaranteed by the Russian trainers.
“Even a group of several thousand militants would not be sufficient for this purpose. Based on our information, their [Ukrainians’] targets could be Russian embassies! These crucial institutions operate throughout Africa. It is precisely the sabotage against them that would have a broad destructive effect. Therefore, it is critically important to thoroughly assess the quality of security in our diplomatic representations and enhance it. It is the Russian envoys—highly skilled professionals—who could become potential victims of this radical unit,” Ivanov concluded.
Russian commentators argued that the Ukranian operatives were selected to do the “dirty work” because no one would care if they disappeared.
“Why a Ukrainian unit? Because they are expendable. The British themselves are not fond of dying. Britain’s last significant engagement was during World War II,” political scientist Dmitry Zhuravlev said in an interview with radio Sputnik.
Former ambassador of the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic to Russia Rodion Miroshnik stated that Ukrainian military personnel was “the most convenient option.”
“They have participated in the conflict against Russia, received training according to NATO standards, which, by the way, are tailored for police operations. The cruelty that the Ukrainians displayed in battles also plays a significant role. In essence, they are ideal candidates for British colonialists,” he said.
Corruption and Torture
Perhaps it’s this “cruelty” that Russia sought to underscore by highlighting the appointment of Lt. Col. Vitaly Prashchuk as the leader of the punitive squad. Prashchuk emerges as an oddly fitting choice for heading the covert mission. Notably, he stands out due to his past affiliations and openness about his military background. In 2019, he ran for a seat in the Ukrainian Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, as a member of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s party, and he was vocal with the media regarding his military experiences.
Prashchuk said in 2015, he was stationed in Mariupol with the 73rd Naval Special Operations Center. During this period, he earned several accolades, including the “For the Defense of Mariupol” award. Subsequently, he was transferred to the Main Directorate of Intelligence, where he served until 2017. The turning point came when he had to quit following the death of his unit’s commander, Oleksandr Kharaberush, who fell victim to a car bomb.
“Those who truly played a significant role in this war were tactically relieved of duty to ensure our safety, to prevent further casualties,” he claimed.
Prashchuk underscored his closeness with Kharaberush, a figure both acclaimed for his courage through a state honor and tarnished by continuous accusations in Russian media of personally endorsing detainee torture.
Interestingly, Prashchuk’s own journey has faced scrutiny from the Ukrainian media. Multiple investigations during his electoral campaign cast shadows on his activities, accusing him of extortion, corruption, and allegations of domestic violence against his wife and two-year-old daughter.
Russian Senator from Perm Krai Andrey Klimov said the Ukrainians selected by MI6 are “real inhumane beings, with their hands stained up to the elbows in blood.”
“In order to prevent the British, together with the Ukrainians, from disrupting the warm cooperation between Russia and Africa, we need to take decisive measures now. Specifically, it makes sense to send specialists from Russia to the continent for consultations and to investigate the impending sabotage,” Klimov added.
Russia meticulously weaves themes in a complex online narrative orchestrated to advance its geopolitical agenda. This narrative, which revolves around Ukraine, encompasses a range of topics to shape public perception. Moscow turned to emphasize Ukraine’s perceived readiness to expand conflicts beyond its borders, projecting it as a source of instability and a potential global disruptor. Simultaneously, Russia employs charged terms like “Ukrainian Nazis” and “militants” to evoke apprehension and raise alarms among foreign nations, aligning with its overarching narrative of Ukraine being a conduit for extremist ideologies that could pose threats worldwide.
Additionally, Russia underscores its perspective by asserting that both Ukraine and the collective West disregard the sovereignty of African nations. This aspect of the narrative dovetails with Russia’s broader strategy to position itself as a champion of national independence while simultaneously sowing doubt about Western intentions. Implicit in this approach is the assertion that Ukraine is obligated to repay Western military support by employing its forces for clandestine overseas operations, thereby eroding Ukraine’s autonomy and casting shadows on its international standing.
The portrayal of Ukrainian forces as expendable pawns serves to amplify Russia’s narrative that the West views them as mere assets to be exploited. By cultivating this narrative, Moscow seeks to undermine Western engagement, painting it as opportunistic and reinforcing Russia’s image as a safeguard against alleged Western manipulations.