Smile and Wave at Viktor Lukovenko – from convict to African political strategist and expert

Prigozhin affiliated Telegram channel awarded best Africa related account in Russia

Every year a Telegram channel “The Africanists” releases a list of the best Telegram channels related to Africa in Russian language. The 2022 list mentioned 67 channels with a focus on Africa, Egypt, Sudan, Ghana, CAR ou Mali. Among these channels is the notorious “Officers Union for International Security” led by Alexander Ivanov and Gazavat Azavada both affiliated with Evegny Prigozhin and is listed as a top awarded channel. Another Prigozhin-affiliated Telegram channel is mentioned: Улыбаемся Машем (Smile and Wave).

Figure 1: Telegram Channel

Created in June 2019 on Telegram and Youtube, Улыбаемся Машем is part of the Wagner influence machine in Africa. The channel supports Russian interest by amplifying content designed for Russian influence on the African continent: relaying Prigozhin CAR affiliated radio, Lengo Songo, or promoting Prigozhin produced films like the Tourist. In addition Улыбаемся Машем was been the first to release Prigozhin’s animation “Lion Bear” in July 2019 on its Youtube channel Now the TG channel has a broader editorial line writing about countries where Wagner group is present or where Russia has influence. 

Figure 2: Animated cartoon Lion Bear

Questioned about its relations to these channels and their administrators, Evgeny Prigozhin’s press team replied to AEOW that “our only official telegram channel is « Prigozhin’s Press Service »: All other telegram channels have nothing to do with us”.

Viktor Vasilev – a smiling admin

The admin and content creator of this channel has been identified as Viktor Vasilev, who is described as a journalist and political expert on Africa. Vasilev seems to be the only administrator of the channel.

Figure 3: Short bio of Victor Vasiliev as author of the Улыбаемся Машем channel

Vasilev is sometimes quoted as an expert on West Africa in Russian media, his channels is additionally often quoted. Additionally, through a podcast called “Circle of Opinions”, Vasilev discusses current geopolitical topics with other experts and popular Russian bloggers. He is a true public figure. All of this contributes to shaping the perception of what is happening in certain African countries and its strategic role for Russia. 

As Vasilev often cross-posts on his social networks, it is easy to link together some of his social media accounts. 

Figure 4: Viktor Vasilev social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and VK

His association with the Prigozhin galaxy is visible as he has been pictured with with Maxim Shugaley, president of the Foundation for National Values Protection, which listed by the US Treasury on sanctions lists for its connection with Evegeny Prigozhin. 

Figure 5: Instagram photo dated of December 20, 2021

He is also friend with Petr Bytchkov on VK who is associated with Prigozhin’s “Africa back office” and several front organisations like AFRIC and the International Anti Crisis Center

Figure 6: Viktor’s VK account

Viktor Lukovenko, a right wing extremist and former convict becomes one of Prigozhin key African propagandists

However Viktor Vasilev is not his real name and his past tells a darker story. A blog post reveals the channel’s admin has served time in Butyrka and IK-8 prisons : Reversing search the prison photos, we can link them to articles mentioning his real name: Viktor Lukovenko. 

Figure 7: three photos from IK-8 prison

Figure 8: photo from Butyrka prison

When compared with Viktor Vasilev social media accounts using facial recognition freely available softwares online, results are 100% matching. This is in addition confirmed by his national tax number: 032602615396 which appear for both Vasilev and Lukovenko.

Figure 9: same tax number, date of birth and patronym

In an interview given to Lenta in 2016, Viktor Lukovenko states he was a post-graduate student of the Faculty of Economics at Moscow State University and explains he spent 5 years in prison: one year in Butyrka in 2010 and four years in a strict regime colony at IK No. 8 in Ulan-Ude. He was convicted in June 2010 to 8 years in prison for beating Swiss National Anthony Kunanayak to death after the Russian March in 2009. At the time Lukovenko was a member of Russian Verdict (« Русский вердикт »), an organisation that presents itself as a human-right defending organisation and provides support to extreme right-wing individuals who have been convicted of criminal offences (murder, grievous bodily harm, hooliganism, extremism, terrorism, etc.). He was released in October 2015.

Born on April 6th 1985 in Uzbekistan, Viktor Lukovenko moved to Russia with his family when he was 4. According to his blog he graduated from St. Petersburg State University with a degree in economic theory in 2007 and the graduate school of the Faculty of Economics of Lomonosov Moscow State University. In 2007 – 2010 he worked in the laboratory of economic philosophy Yu.M.Osipov (a research institute) and in the publishing house of Moscow State University (it was confirmed by independent sources). Since 2005, Viktor would have been engaged with Orthodox and national-patriotic organisations, and would have been working in elections. Since 2009 he would be working with Russian Verdict.

From Russian prisons to AFRIC political strategist and African expert

An administrative trail of documents AEOW has retrieved appears in 2018 for the name “Vasilev” while “Lukovenko” continues to exist in parallel. Viktor appears in Madagascar in september 2018 at a conference organised by Prigozhin-affiliated think tank AFRIC, which is listed by the US Treasury, in the company of Kemi Seba, a Franco-Beninese who has been financially supported by Evgeny Prigozhin. AFRIC appeared in Madagascar in August 2018 to support candidates endorsed by the Kremlin at the 2018 Madagascar Presidential Elections. The Prigozhin-affiliated think tank organised a conference on September 28 2018 titled “The Resolutions of the International Conference ‘The Islands of Hope’ (The Territorial Dispute of the Scattered Islands)” in partnership with Afrique Media to offer a communication platforms for their chosen presidential candidates and push anti-Western narratives with speakers like Kemi Seba. 

Figure 10: Victor Lukovenko with Kemi Seba at AFRIC Conference in Madagascar on September 28 2018

A couple of months later he started the Telegram Channel Улыбаемся Машем (Smile and Wave). Contacted by email, Viktor Lukovenko has not responded to our questions on his role with AFRIC in Madagascar or why he changed his name.

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