Putin’s trusted man lands in Nairobi, but what was the mission?

A private jet belonging to one of Russian President Vladmir Putin’s most trusted aides landed in Nairobi this week in a mission no one wants to talk about.

The Sunday Standard has confirmed that Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plane, registration number M-VITO, landed at the Wilson Airport on Monday night from Khartoum, Sudan, and stayed there until Thursday evening.

Lately, the businessman, also known as ‘Putin’s Chef’ since one of his companies provides catering services to the Kremlin is being viewed by international news outlets as one of the key players in Russia’s renewed interest in Africa. In August, a Russian newspaper Kommersant ran an investigative story alleging another of Prigozhin’s companies is funding a political research in several countries in the continent including Kenya dubbed ‘The African Project.’

 “Kommersant has learned that Madagascar, South Africa, Kenya and several other African countries, where elections are to be held in the next year or two, Russian political technologists are monitoring the socio-political situation and sociological research,” said the publication. “In Kenya, elections were held last year. But it is understood that the project is long-term, for about two years.”

On board the flight were five individuals whose identity still remains a mystery. The Government has refused to say who they were and whether Prigozhin, who has been indicted by the US for meddling in its last elections was part of them.

Texts to the Director of Immigration Alexander Muteshi and Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau over the matter have not been answered. Kenya Civil Aviation (KCAA) Director Gilbert Kibe however confirmed that the Hawker 800XP business jet belonging to Prigozhin did land in the country.

“The aircraft landed at 19:56 hrs (7:56pm) on December 17 and was directed to customs and immigration where they positioned and switched off the engines,” responded Kibe after we sent him photos of the plane on the tarmac at Wilson. “Later they taxied out and parked at apron 4 until Thursday,” he said.

The plane left Wilson 4:35pm on Thursday for Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). It left JKIA, one hour and 15 minutes later at 5:50 pm with seven people on board for Ndjamena, Chad. The Immigration department too has refused to tell us the identity of the seven.

Also unknown is what was the mission of the five people who arrived on Monday night in the country. Prigozhin, 56, who is one of President Putin’s trusted men in Moscow owns a network of companies accused of spreading Russian agenda while shielding the government from blame.

The businessman owns a private military group known as the Wagner Group that is actively involved in the ongoing war in the Central African Republic. The Wagner group, was thrust into the spotlight in July when three Russian journalists were killed in the Central African Republic while investigating its alleged presence there.

In the US one of his companies has been implicated for tricking Americans online through Russian Fed propaganda that was aimed at increasing the chances of Donald Trump becoming president.  As a result Prigozhin has been banned from stepping on the US and will be arrested if he does so. American publication The New York Times has termed Prigozhin’s company, the Internet Research Agency as, “a prime source of provocative posts on divisive American issues, including race, religion, gun laws and gay rights, particularly during the 2016 presidential election.”

In Africa, however, Russia’s renewed foreign policy has largely been characterised by offering arms, mercenaries, security training and electioneering services in exchange for mining rights. Yesterday, Khartoum announced it had signed an agreement with Russian state owned company Rosatom rights to construct a nuclear power plant.

Rosatom has been pushing for a contract to set up a nuclear power plant in Kenya.