On former Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov, possible architect of the "ghost fleet", arrested in Russia

07/05/24

Timur Vadimovich Ivanov, now former deputy defense minister of the Russian Federation, was arrested on April 23 by Russian authorities on charges of corruption and treason. Ivanov is known to be the "responsible for the procurement of military materials" of the Kremlin Armed Forces and the tenth most important officer in the hierarchy of the Russian military leadership. Very close to the defense minister shoigu, the now former deputy minister appeared in a glass cage in the Moscow courtroom still wearing his uniform. A very unusual fact, considering that usually Russian military officers, when tried, tend to present themselves in civilian clothes so as not to damage the image of the body they belong to.

Ivanov, born in Moscow in 1975, is currently, like many other Russian officers, under sanctions by both the United States Department of the Treasury and European Union bodies. What is more important, however, is that Ivanov himself appears to be one of the main puppeteers behind the project 'ghost fleet' Russian. This is the expression that, in fact, some of the authors of this article used in 2023, when they released for the NATO Defense College un report investigation exposing the possibly illicit activities of the now SPARTA IV (IMO: 9743033), recently reported by Press. The discovery placed the problem of civilian shipping used to transport military material incognito at the center of media attention.

But the 'ghost fleet' is not only made up of SPARTA IV. To assist the ship's movements sanctioned there are others managed by the same organizations, also affected by Western sanctions, such as SPARTA II (IMO: 9160994), URSA MAJOR (ex-SPARTA III, IMO: 9538892), and PIZHMA (IMO: 8814354). The tanker YAZ (IMO: 9735323), on the other hand, is not technically part of the ghost fleet, but sometimes finds itself supporting it by refueling it while traveling.

It has become known that these ships have carried S-300 surface-to-air missiles46mm M-130 artillery pieces, 122 and 152mm howitzers, S-60 anti-aircraft weapons e KAMAZ-5350. Timur Ivanov is directly connected to this fleet through the company OBL-Shipping LLC, a subsidiary of Oboronlogistika. The latter is a dual-purpose logistics company, serving military and civilian customers, and directly controlled by the Russian Ministry of Defense. The OBL-Shipping LLC subsidiary has multiple connections to the Russian MoD logistics hub called Chief Directorate for Troop Accommodations JSC, a major military logistics institution, likely crucial to the war in Ukraine. Ivanov was in fact CEO and director. For these reasons, the EU sanctioned Ivanov on charges of profiting economically from the war in Ukraine and, most likely, from the logistics associated with it.

Between February and March 2024, SPARTA IV, URSA MAJOR and YAZ were probably escorted in the Mediterranean by the Grigorovich frigate off the coast of Algeria, where the SPARTA IV followed a very irregular route, reveals the data analysis conducted by the authors of this article (who also shared their considerations in preview with Maritime Executive) . These civilian cargo ships have been escorted by military vessels since the beginning of their illicit operations. However, the Syrian express appears to have undergone a substantial change. The transportation of weapons from the Russian naval base in Tartus, Syria, to Novorossiysk, Russia, appears to have stopped – how reported da different sources and already demonstrated by the authors in a map previously shared on The Maritime Executive.

(Route of SPARTA IV. Sources: AIS data provided by Global Fishing Watch)

It is not clear whether the ships altered their usual route due to the threat posed by Ukrainian marine drones or whether it is instead the legal aspect that worries Russian shipowners: if the ships were considered as auxiliary vessels, then according to international law they would become a legitimate target for Ukrainian forces, which, in fact, has occurred in the past. Be that as it may, after more than twenty days of silence, SPARTA IV reappeared on radar on April 16 and is currently heading to Syria, where it should arrive in early May.

As regards Ivanov, however, the alleged investigations continue 'corruption' “under the art. 290 of the Russian Criminal Code (receiving a large bribe)”. The former deputy minister remains in custody until at least June 23, while the FSB continues its investigations between the locations of Krasnodar and Stavropol.

Corruption, in Russia, is historically a weapon used when necessary by intelligence agencies to prove an initial accusation and possibly cover the true reasons for the investigation. This practice is not a recent invention, but part of modus operandi of the KGB. The timing, target and charge of this investigation can go in a limited number of directions. Certainly replacing an officer like Ivanov, Shoigu's man and critical for multiple logistical operations, at a time like this is not a good sign of solidity at the top of the Russian regime.

Giangiuseppe Pili, Alessio Armenzoni, Jack Crawford, Fabrizio Minniti

Opening photo: Kremlin archive