In Moscow, there was an outpouring of support at the Central House of Journalists following the news that three Russian journalists – Kirill Radchenko, Alexander Rastorguyev, and Orkhan Dzhemal – were killed in an ambush near the Central African Republic town of Sibut.
Vyacheslav Umanovsky, head of the Russian journalists union, said one day a permanent memorial may go there. First, however, his colleagues around the world, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists, demand an investigation into what happened.
Perhaps no one wants those answers more than exiled Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who said the three men working for his Center for Investigation Management project were “among the best specialists in Russia” as they launched a probe into Russian mercenaries active in the CAR.
“I certainly feel a heavy load. This is not the first time in my life when people with whom I worked or with whom I stood side by side in dangerous situations or for which I was responsible have perished,” he said in a Facebook post. “I live with this,” he added, extending condolences to those with a greater loss.
The Russian government confirmed the deaths Tuesday but said its embassy in CAR new nothing of the reporters’ plans. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the three journalists were “in possession of their journalist IDs only,” but there are multiple Russian media accounts reporting they held fake Izvestia press credentials.
Moscow has developed a close relationship with CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, and readily admits to interest in mining concessions. Russia also provides training, technical assistance and weapons to the chronically volatile nation, in compliance with a United Nations Security Council resolution.
What’s less clear is the role of the illegal private military company, believed to be Wagner Group, which is known to have a presence in Sudan and potentially in Libya on the African continent. That’s what the three journalists were assigned to delve into, raising speculation that their deaths may be linked to the sensitive nature of the assignment.
Image: Obruchevsky Press Center, RTVI video