The recent conflicts where Russia has been directly or indirectly involved, like the invasion of Ukraine and the civil wars in Syria, Libya and Central African Republic have introduced the public to the Russian quasi-private military contractors. The most famous of these “private military contractors” is undoubtedly the notorious Wagner-group that is presently waging an army corps level assault on the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut after engaging in various war crimes across Ukraine. The group leader Evgeniy Prigozhin has used his close connections to the Kremlin to expand his private army with convicted criminals. But the Wagner isn’t the only such formation operating under the Kremlin’s umbrella.
Several rumors have been floating around about the increased friction between the Russian military and Wagner. Elements within the Kremlin and the Russian general staff are trying to elevate another private security company called Redut, Russian for a redoubt, to balance the growing power of the Wagner and Prigozhin.
The “Private military corporation” activities of the Redut have evolved from the legitimate security business as the Russian oligarchs operating in the energy sector have gained access to the more volatile assets, such as the Syrian oil fields.
The Redut is owned by the Russian oligarch Gennady Timchenko, who also has Finnish and Armenian citizenship. While the origin of Timchenkos Armenian citizenship is a straightforward thing, he was born there while his father was stationed there as a Red Army officer, his Finnish passport is a much more complicated story.
Businessman, spy, warlord
Timchenko moved to Finland in 1991 and started working in an oil export company Urals Finland Oy. This commercial venture and many others like it, have often been associated with the KGB leadership’s attempt to secure funds for operations and personal use abroad after the problems caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Timchenko got rich fast and also ended up in the watchlist of the Finnish counter intelligence agency SUPO.
Obtaining Finnish citizenship is usually a rather straightforward issue.The applicant must have lived in Finland for more than 5 years, have a reasonably clean criminal record and pass a security check conducted by SUPO. So how would a Russian, with known affiliations with the Russian security services and political apparatus like Timchenko pass that background check?
For more than two decades that question has been asked every now and then, but without a clear answer or major interest by the mainstream media.The issue gained more traction after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
During the last year Jarno Liski, a Finnish investigative journalist, has been digging into the issue and discovered some eyebrow raising details about the case and other connections to the central figure, working in the Finnish administration, in it.
Matti Saarelainen was the head of the Finnish immigration bureau at the time of Timchenkos citizenship application. The entire paper trail about the applications handling has been missing since day one and mr. Saarelainen claims that he doesn’t remember anything special about the issue. What casts a shadow over his actions is his later firing from his position as the head of the bureau. He had hired an Estonian woman into his bureau. The woman in question had previously worked at the KGB run Russian travel agency Inturist as a translator. This part of the KGB became part of the Russian foreign intelligence service SVR after the dissolution of the USSR. The KGB operation that ran the money extraction operation via the Urals oil export company was also moved to the SVR. Even more incriminating is the fact that the Estonian woman in question was also a stepsister of the famous spy Herman Simm, who on behalf of the Russian SVR, had penetrated the Estonian security services and gained access to top secret material of Estonia, EU and NATO.
Mr. Saarelainen went on to be employed by the Finnish SUPO for a number of years, before being appointed as the head of the European Hybrid COE, a center established to study and counter Russian hybrid operations against the EU and NATO member states. He was later forced to resign from that post due to accusations of sexual harassment, but one must wonder if his past had leaked to the other countries involved. He was then rehired by SUPO and allowed to stay on their payroll until his retirement.
SUPO was investigating the issue of Timchenkos citizenship and the controversies regarding mr. Saarelainen in 2022, but the investigation was related to his status as a public servant and it was ended on his retirement as there was no actual criminal case ongoing. The issue is under further review by the Finnish authorities as of 17.1.2023.
While the fact that a high ranking public servant in the Finnish counter intelligence may have been cooperating with the Russian SVR is worrying, the number of times mr. Saarelainen has gotten new opportunities to rise in the ranks, despite his previous failings, suggests that he must have had considerable support from someone or someones in the Finnish political leadership. He is known to have close relations with the Center party, which has had many openly pro-Russian politicians. The Finnish Prime Minister at the time of Timchenkos citizenship application was Paavo Lipponen who was one of the driving forces behind Nordstream gas pipelines and received a lot money for consulting Gazprom. His predecessor was Esko Aho, who after leaving politics was hired into the board of the Kremlin controlled Russian Sperbank.
Redut in action
What kind of operations, besides handling static security at oil installations, has Redut done? From testimonies by captured Redut mercenaries, Ukrainians have learned that they were part of the invasion force from the day one, or actually day -1. A Redut team was sent into Donbass to reconnaissance a route for the Russian spearhead heading west.
Another Redut detachment was attached to the invasion force heading from Belarus to Kyiv. It had been tasked with attacking and securing the headquarters of the Security Service of Ukraine SSU (SBU in Ukrainian).
Unlike Wagner’s human wave attacks against fortified Ukrainian positions, the Redut seems to be used more akin to a special forces outfit and the cooperation with the military formations is much better. This difference might prove vital when the power struggle in Russia turns bloody again.
What kind of a security threat Timchenkos Redut is to Finland specifically? The group has access to Finnish real estate owned by various Russian people and entities, its financier has a Finnish passport and seemingly some connections to the Finnish political establishment. One example of a such connection was shown when the then Finnish foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja vetoed EU sanctions against Timchenko in 2014 after Russia invaded Crimea.
In any future conflict between Russia and Finland, Russia could be employing its private special force, owned by a Finnish citizen and directed by deeply rooted SVR connections against the critical points in the Finnish defense and government. Hopefully these issues will be investigated thoroughly and regardless of whose reputation it might hurt.