WarGonzo’s Semen Pegov : Coming in the GRU’s back door

In continued monitoring of Russian propaganda reports that Western militaries are planning “false flags” in the Donbas which mirror prior disinformation narratives about the White Helmets in Syria, I came to learn of the WarGonzo Telegram channel. There is limited information about this news source’s background in English but it seems to parrot similar narratives to the official positions of the Russian Ministry of Defense.

WarGonzo recently claimed: “The White Helmets are rushing to Donetsk. Judging by the intelligence, the British-Turkish alliance is going to work out its “Syrian case” in the Donbas. We all remember staged documentaries and special reports about the “use” of chemical weapons. The British office of the White Helmets is also preparing scenarios for the Donbass regions of Russia. Knowing their cynical experience in the Middle East, one has to expect something adequate from this case. Donbass needs to be on the alert.” [1]

WarGonzo is run by the journalist Semen Pegov (aka Semyon Pegov) and has consistently been one of the most-cited Telegram channels in Russian media in the past few years [2, 3]. 

Semen Pegov: Gonzo Muppet (x Proboscis Monkey if it was too subtle…)

Background on WarGonzo being close to Russian state and GRU 

WarGonzo was founded by Semen Pegov in 2017, and has both Telegram and YouTube channels associated with it. It does not seem to be reported that Pegov has an actual military background.

Russian military journalist Semyon Pegov detained in Chisinau
Semen Pegov (aka Semyon Pegov)

Before founding WarGonzo, Semen Pegov worked as a journalist in Smolensk and for the LifeNews channel owned by media entrepreneur Aram Gabrelyanov (who is ethnically Armenian). Gabrelyanov apparently has provided funding for the WarGonzo project following the closure of LifeNews [4].

Создатель LIFE NEWS Арам Габрелянов грозится терактами в адрес президентов Турции и Азербайджана | 1news.az | Новости
Aram Gabrelyanov

Gabrelyanov is notable for having been appointed director of National Media Group (NMG) in 2011. NMG is overseen by close Putin associate Yuri Kovalchuk. In his work for NMG, Gabrelyanov was editor in chief for the Izvestia newspaper [5]. (Gabrelyanov no longer serves in this capacity.)

LifeNews had been a major source of fake news and disinformation about the war in Eastern Ukraine caused by Russia. It was allegedly also during Gabrelyanov’s tenure at NMG that Izvestia “became became the main source of personnel and a cover publication for GRU operatives-journalists.” [6]

Similarly, it is noted that Semen Pegov’s media positions seem aligned to the narratives at Zvezda, which is owned by the Russian Ministry of Defense [7].

Problems with the Local Police  in Areas of Russian Information Aggression

One of the trends which seems to emerge in investigating WarGonzo is that Semen Pegov has been repeatedly detained or charged with crimes by the security services in various conflict zones.

(1) Belarus – During the height of Russia’s ‘hybrid invasion’ activities in August 2020, it was reported that Belarusian security services had detained Pegov and another WarGonzo correspondent during riots which followed the contested Presidential election [8].

Semen Pegov appears unconscious as he is dragged away by Belarusian security during protests associated with Russia’s hybrid influence campaign in Belarus.

(2) Azerbaijan – In October 2020, the General Prosecutor of Azerbaijan opened a criminal case against Pegov for traveling illegally across the border to Nagorno-Karabakh, for creating a “criminal relationship” with alleged Armenian terrorists, and for having urged his Russian audience to come to the conflict zone to fight [9].

WarGonzo also seems to have been responsible for supporting an information campaign which used innuendo about a senior Azerbaijani military commander with an Armenian ethnic background to label him as a Russian GRU agent — claims which Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense officials had already dismissed months earlier as “lies, slander and disinformation spread by hostile forces for provocative purposes.” [10,11]

(3) Moldova – In December 2021, it was reported that Semen Pegov was detained and searched by Moldova’s Information and Security Service (ISS) as he prepared to fly from Chisinau to Moscow. This attention was reportedly for his role in controversially reporting on the frozen Transnistria conflict. Russian sources reported that Moldovan security threatened to deport Pegov to Ukraine over these matters [12].

Conclusion and Further Directions

This report only scratches the surface about Semen Pegov and WarGonzo’s disinformation practices. However, there does seem to be considerable circumstantial evidence which ties his project to the official media of the Russian state and the GRU specifically.

Some Ukrainian analytical reporting has alleged that the WarGonzo Telegram project is directly subordinate to GRU [13].

An example illustrating this ecosystem came from the exposure of the creation of a new “crucified boy” narrative related to alleged casualties caused by a Ukrainian drone attack in 2021. During this episode, WarGonzo and other GRU-friendly Telegram media outlets behaved inorganically in support of developing a coordinated narrative [14].

Another interesting aspect of this story which is worth further investigation is the apparent information conflicts between media close to Aram Gabrelyanov and those sources close to ‘Putin’s chef’ Yevgeny Prigozhin [15].

A possible explanation for the conflict/competition is that Gabrelyanov allegedly serves masters at the GRU whereas Prigozhin and his Wagner PMC are closely affiliated with the FSB security services [7].

In any case, these circumstantial details reinforce the idea that there is narrative alignment between WarGonzo and the Russian Ministry of Defense via Aram Gabrelyanov’s patronage of the site and it may explain the close parallels in the chemical weapons false flag narratives which have been observed.



[1] Alexey Ivanov, “««Crushing sword»: масштабная информационная спецоперация Киева и Запада»” (“Crushing sword”: large-scale informational special operation of Kiev and the West“), Zavtra, February 1 2022,  https://zavtra.ru/events/crushing_sword_masshtabnaya_informatcionnaya_spetcoperatciya_kieva_i_zapada

[2] Alexey Salikov, “Telegram as a Means of Political Communication and its use by Russia’s Ruling Elite“, Politologia, 2019/3, vol. 95, pp. 83-110, Available (PDF):  https://www.zurnalai.vu.lt/politologija/article/download/15019/14040

[3] “«ТОП-30 Telegram-каналов по цитируемости в российских СМИ – октябрь 2021»” (“TOP-30 Telegram channels by citation in Russian media – October 2021“), Medialogy (analytical portal), November 3 2021, https://www.mlg.ru/ratings/socmedia/telegram/10194/

[4] Natalya Galimova, Vladimir Dergachev, and Irina Lee, “«Канал Life сократит новостное вещание и штат»”  (“Channel Life will cut news broadcasting and staff“),  RBC, August 16 2017,  https://www.rbc.ru/technology_and_media/16/08/2017/5993384e9a79472501186759

[5] Pavel Belavin and Sergei Sobolev, “«Арам Габрелянов получил “Известия“»” (“Aram Gabrelyanov received “Izvestia”“), Kommersant, February 11 2011, https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/1583373

[6] Alexander Kovalenko, “«Врать и не краснеть: ложь российской пропаганды о войне в Нагорном Карабахе»” (“To lie and not to blush: lies of Russian propaganda about the war in Nagorno-Karabakh“), Odessa Courier, October 11 2020, https://uc.od.ua/columns/1533/1230182

[7] Alexander Kovalenko, “«Латентные слуги российской пропаганды»” (“Latent servants of Russian propaganda“), Odessa Courier, October 22 2020, https://uc.od.ua/columns/1533/1230376

[8] “«В Минске освободили оператора Telegram-канала»” (“WarGonzo Operator of WarGonzo Telegram channel released in Minsk“), Kommersant, August 11 2020, https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4450071

[9] Trend, “Azerbaijan opens criminal case against WarGonzo founder due to extremist calls“, Azer News,  October 12 2020, https://www.azernews.az/nation/170553.html

[10] “«#WarGonzo: Глава Генштаба Азербайджана объявлен агентом ГРУ»” (“#WarGonzo: Head of the General Staff of Azerbaijan declared a GRU agent“), Artsakh News,  October 1 2020,  https://artsakh.news/ru/news/190307

[11] Official post of the Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense, Facebook, July 21 2020, https://www.facebook.com/wwwmodgovaz/photos/a.1086404814749567/3364763333580359/?type=3

[12] Marina Sovina, “«Спецслужбы Молдавии задержали российского журналиста»” (“Moldovan special services detained a Russian journalist“), Lenta, December 15 2021,  https://lenta.ru/news/2021/12/15/pegov/

[13] Alexander Kovalenko, “«Telegram-каналы на службе ГУ ГШ ВС РФ (ГРУ)»” (“Telegram channels in the service of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU)”), Odessa Courier, October 28 2020, https://uc.od.ua/columns/1533/1230527

[14] Aleksey Kopytko, “«Как российское ГРУ изобретало нового «распятого мальчика»»” (“How the Russian GRU invented a new “crucified boy”“), All Kharkov (repost of Facebook blog), April 5 2021, https://allkharkov.ua/news/pro/kak-rossiiskoe-gry-izobretalo-novogo-raspiatogo-malchika.html

[15]Irina Kravtsova and Ivan Golunov, “«Компанию Пригожина связали со вспышкой дизентерии в московских школах. Он все отрицает — и заодно нападает на Навального»” (“Prigozhin’s company has been linked to an outbreak of dysentery in Moscow schools. He denies everything – and at the same time attacks Navalny“), Meduza, February 20 2019,  https://meduza.io/feature/2019/02/20/kompaniyu-prigozhina-svyazali-so-vspyshkoy-dizenterii-v-moskovskih-shkolah-on-vse-otritsaet-i-zaodno-napadaet-na-navalnogo