Associates of the Russian mercenary outfit Wagner Group planned to visit the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti to seek out possible government contracts that could see them fighting local gangs, according to leaked classified U.S. documents.
The account of the Wagner Group’s alleged interest in Haiti, only 800 miles south of Florida, is one of several references to the mercenaries in the trove of Defense Department documents that surfaced online in recent weeks. Another document refers to friction between the mercenary group, run by a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Russian military.
The Biden administration says the documents appear to include highly classified material. It remains unclear how the papers made their way to a private online chatroom in March. A senior official said that while the documents appear real, they may have been altered.
NBC News has obtained more than 50 of the documents. Many appear to be briefing slides prepared by the U.S. military’s Joint Staff and refer to information gleaned from an array of U.S. intelligence agencies.
In late February, Wagner Group representatives had plans to “discreetly travel to Haiti to assess the potential for contracts with the Haitian government to fight against local gangs,” according to one of the documents, which cited law enforcement reporting.
Wagner Group units are playing a prominent role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, recruiting prison convicts for bloody ground assaults around Bakhmut.
In Africa, the Wagner Group has deployed to the Central African Republic and Mali. But the leaked document suggests it had ambitions to extend its reach much closer to America, off the southern coast of the U.S. in Haiti.
Haiti has plunged into a chaotic spiral in recent years, with heavily armed gangs asserting control over the capital.
Another document, citing signals intelligence, said Russian defense officials were considering how to respond to claims by Wagner owner Yevgeny Prighozin, a former convict and Putin ally, that the Defense Ministry was not providing enough munitions to his troops in Ukraine. Prighozin had accused defense officials of treason for withholding weaponry. The defense officials proposed doubling the munitions supplied to Wagner and making a public statement. Prighozin later crowed publicly about having gotten his way.