During an August 3 press briefing at Russia’s Foreign Ministry, official spokesperson Maria Zakharova claimed she had no information about who sent three Russian journalists to the CAR, where they were murdered. She also claimed she had no idea what they were doing there or who they were working for.
"I don't even know who sent them there,” Zakharova told reporters.
"I don’t know whether they represented the media or a public organization there. I have no such information,” she added.
Zakharova was answering a question from a reporter at a ministry briefing, about the journalists’ investigation of a Russian private military company operating in the CAR. The spokeswoman pointed out the journalist had not followed appropriate procedures to report their activities. She would certainly have had access to such information about the employer and mission of the three journalists, since this was made public just hours after their deaths were first reported.
The three Russian journalists, Orkhan Jemal, Kirill Radchenko, and Alexander Rastorguev, were killed in the Central African Republican (CAR) when their vehicle was ambushed by unknown assailants near the town of Sibut
In a story posted on July 31, the website of the BBC’s Russian service quoted Andrey Konyakhin, head of the Investigation Control Center, a project funded by Russian opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Konyakhin said he and the three journalists were working together on a “project.” The BBC story also reported that Maria Zakharova had been in contact with Orkhan Dzhemal’s wife, but did not made clear whether she had informed Zakharova of her husband’s activities.
The Russian news agency Interfax also published a story on June 31 which reported that the three journalists had arrived in the CAR on July 28 to work on a documentary film that was joint project with Khodorkovsky’s Investigation Control Center (ICC). Interfax reported they were investigating the presence of Russian private military companies in the CAR.
However, Zakharova had already demonstrated she had some awareness of what the journalists were doing and who sent them. On August 1, Polygraph.info published a fact check of her posting on Facebook earlier that day.
“I'm listening to and reading this nonsense about the ‘investigation’ of PMCs (Private Military Companies) in the CAR,” the post read.
Khodorkovsky himself made a statement about the murdered journalists and their investigation on his official website on July 31, pointing out they were investigating “Russian private mercenaries, in particular the Wagner group.” Zakharova, herself, showed familiarity with these facts in her August 1 Facebook post, in which she quoted Andrey Konyakhin and mentioned the ICC, and noted Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s connection to the project. At the end of the post, she asked the ICC to name the local United Nations officials who allegedly told them where they could travel within the Central African Republic.
In the August 1 fact check of Zakharova’s comments, Polygraph.info pointed out Zakharova made no mention of Wagner. Private military companies are illegal under Russian law and acting as a mercenary carries a criminal penalty in Russia.
Based on those two Facebook posts from Maria Zakharova herself, it’s clear that she is well aware of who the slain Russian journalists were working for and what they were investigating in the Central African Republic.