A CNN reporter said she was targeted by a Russian propaganda campaign following her exclusive report on the country's activity in Africa and a secretive mercenary group called Wagner.
CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward and her reporting team spoke with a former fighter for the Russian private military contractor about the group's activities in the war-torn Central African Republic, according to MediaIte.
The report centers around the shadowy private military contract group known as Wagner. Russia denies the group’s existence, although it has been reported the mercenary group played a role in Russia's conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. Now the group has apparently turned its attention toward Africa, with CNN reporting its subsidiaries are at work in Libya, Sudan and the Central African Republic.
"We tried to reach out to Wagner but they don't officially exist so they don't have an address or phone number. We also tried to reach out to the Russian minister of defense and they also did not give us any response so this is an opaque relationship and it’s difficult to say," Ward told Brianna Keilar.
Read alsoCAR rebels demand Russian mercenaries be pulled out - media
"But CNN has discovered that the group now has hundreds of fighters operating on three different continents," Ward said.
The months-long investigation also established that Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch also known as "Putin's chef," is sponsoring a military and PR campaign to increase Russian influence in the region.
Previous reporting has established that Prigozhin’s companies have come to dominate Russian Defense Ministry contracting work and Prigozhin himself was sanctioned for his involvement in funding the Internet Research Agency that interfered in the 2016 presidential election in the United States. He has denied involvement with Wagner.
Read alsoWagner PMC part of Russian military intel, IDs of "mercenaries" confirm – Ukraine security chief
As CNN prepared to publish its report, a site linked to the oligarch's company released a propaganda video about CNN's trip to the Central African Republic, featuring surreptitiously filmed video of the team at their hotel and false accusations that they bribed local residents.
"The Kremlin hates your report. That's part of the reason why, you just spelled it out there," CNN's Keilar told Ward Tuesday.
"Three Russian journalists were murdered in the central African republic a year ago while they were working on a story about Russian mercenaries," Ward said. "On another level, I have to be honest with you, it's somewhat satisfying because it makes it clear that our reporting has hit a nerve and we are telling a story that some people would rather not see told."
You can read Ward’s full report here.