A Russian military group fighting in Ukraine on behalf of Vladimir Putin attempted to buy weapons and equipment from an unlikely source: NATO member Turkey, according to a leaked US intelligence document that was obtained by CNN.
The leaked document appears to show the lengths the Russian private military group Wagner has gone to try to further strengthen its capabilities as the war in Ukraine — in which it is playing a key role — continues on with no signs of abating.
As a NATO member, Turkey is broadly considered a partner nation to the US and other nations providing direct military support to Ukraine, and it has publicly expressed opposition to Russia’s invasion.
It is also home to a major US military base where nuclear weapons are stored and act as an obvious warning sign to deter Russian aggression against NATO members.
Evidence that Turkey has discussed selling weapons to Russian mercenary forces would likely raise serious concerns in Washington and complicate Ankara’s relationship with other NATO members.
Not only does the document reference intelligence about Wagner seeking to purchase weapons from Turkey, it also states that the paramilitary group planned to resume recruitment of prisoners from Russia’s jails.
According to the US signals intelligence reporting cited in the document, personnel from the Wagner Group met with “Turkish contacts” in early February with the intent “to purchase weapons and equipment from Turkey” that could then be used by Wagner mercenaries who are fighting alongside Russian forces in Ukraine.
Wagner also planned to use the weapons and equipment from Turkey in Mali, where the group maintains a significant presence, according to the leaked document.
While there is no evidence that shows that Turkey has moved forward with any arms sales to the Wagner Group, details about the February meeting — outlined in a section of the leaked document titled, “Mali, Russia, Turkey: Vagner seeks weapons from Ankara” — suggest US officials believe the Russian mercenary outfit has at least tested the waters.
CNN has not independently confirmed the veracity of the document, but US officials have indicated that most of the leaked tranche are authentic. A State Department spokesperson said the “the Department of Defense and the intelligence community are actively reviewing and assessing the validity” of the leaked documents, adding “we are not in a position to confirm or comment on any specific information they contain.”
CNN has reached out to the US National Security Council, the office of the Turkish President and Turkey’s Embassy in Washington for comment on the document.