Leaked classified U.S. documents have revealed that associates of the Russian mercenary outfit Wagner Group were planning to visit the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti to seek possible government contracts that could see them fighting local gangs. The documents, which were obtained by NBC News, suggest that Wagner Group, run by a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, had ambitions to extend its reach much closer to America, only 800 miles south of Florida.
The documents also reveal that Wagner Group units are playing a prominent role in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, recruiting prison convicts for bloody ground assaults around Bakhmut. The mercenary group has also deployed to the Central African Republic and Mali.
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. Haiti has plunged into a chaotic spiral in recent years, with heavily armed gangs asserting control over the capital.
Another document cited signals intelligence, saying that 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. The defense officials proposed doubling the munitions supplied to Wagner and making a public statement.
The Biden administration has said that the leaked documents appear to include highly classified material, and 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. The FBI has launched an investigation into the leak, and the Pentagon has launched a review to assess the potential damage caused by the disclosure.
The account of the Wagner Group's alleged interest in Haiti 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 and the Russian military. U.S. intelligence agencies have declined to comment on the details appearing in the documents.