United States designates Russian group Wagner as a criminal organization

United States designates Russian group Wagner as a criminal organization

Published on: 21.01.2023 – 07:09 Modified on: 21.01.2023 – 07:13

The United States on Friday labeled the Wagner paramilitary group a criminal organization, while Washington condemned “the atrocities” and “human rights abuses” committed by Russian militiamen stationed in Ukraine and several African countries, and their ties to North Korea.

Wagner in Washington’s sights. On Friday, January 20, the United States labeled the Russian paramilitary group Wagner an international criminal organization and denounced its abuses in Ukraine, its use of weapons supplied by North Korea and its massive recruitment of detainees.

“Wagner is a criminal organization that commits massive atrocities and human rights abuses,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

“We continue to understand that the Wagner Group currently has about 50,000 personnel based in Ukraine, including 10,000 mercenaries and 40,000 prisoners,” so this raises the Russian Defense Ministry’s “concerns” about its “recruitment methods,” he said .

The official announced Washington would soon impose more sanctions on the Wagner group after the group was classified on Friday as a criminal organization modeled after the mafia or other organized crime-related organizations such as the yakuza.

Relations with North Korea

He also showed US intelligence press satellite imagery of alleged Russian train cars leaving Russia for North Korea and then returning to Russian territory carrying military equipment, including missiles for the Wagner Group in Ukraine.

The pictures were taken on November 18 and 19, he said, adding that the United States had shared the information with the UN Security Council as part of the sanctions against Pyongyang.

The paramilitary group is led by Yevgeny Prigoyine, a 61-year-old Russian businessman close to President Vladimir Putin, and is very active in the bitter struggle to take Bakhmout in eastern Ukraine.

It operates elsewhere in the world, particularly in Africa.

“We will work tirelessly to identify, uncover and target everyone who supports Wagner,” said John Kirby.

According to Washington, the group is gaining power and is now competing with Russian forces.

Rivalry with the Russian Army

“We have intelligence that tensions between Wagner and the Department of Defense are escalating,” he said.

“Wagner is emerging as a powerhouse that competes with the Russian army and other Russian ministries,” said the American official, for whom “Prigoyine represents his own interests in Ukraine.”

“Wagner makes military decisions based on what they produce for him, particularly in terms of publicity,” he added.

The divisions between the Russian army and the Wagner group noted by many observers became apparent during the battle for the small town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine.

When Mr. Prigoyine claimed responsibility for taking Soledar, he was quickly contradicted by the Russian Defense Ministry, which itself two days later announced the capture of the city, which Kyiv denied.

Since last summer, Wagner’s troops and the Russian army have been attempting to conquer Bakhmout, this city in the Donetsk region (east) of questionable strategic interest but great symbolic power.

However, the Kremlin denied any tensions between the Russian army and the paramilitary group, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov spoke of “manipulation”.

Founded in 2014, the Wagner Group has recruited thousands of inmates to fight for reduced sentences in Ukraine. Evguéni Prigojine, formerly discreet, has established himself as a key player in the conflict in Ukraine.

With AFP