US labels Russian Wagner Group a ‘transnational criminal organization’

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The US government has designated the Russian private military contractor known as the Wagner Group as a “transnational criminal organization”, giving the infamous mercenary the same status as international drug cartels and human trafficking organizations under US law.

National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby said Friday that the move is a result of Wagner’s ongoing operations in Ukraine, which he described as “committing atrocities and human rights violations.”

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Mr Kirby also said US intelligence has determined that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war effort is increasingly reliant on Wagner, leading to tensions between Russian defense officials and Wagner’s owner Yevgeny Prigozhin.

“Wagner becomes a rival center of power for the Russian military and other Russian ministries. Prigozhin and his fighters have criticized Russian generals and defense officials for their actions on the battlefield. Prigozhin is trying to advance his own interest in Ukraine and Wagner is making military decisions based largely on what they will generate for Prigozhin in terms of positive publicity,” he said.

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The White House spokesman also revealed satellite photos showing Wagner having had to turn to North Korea as a supplier of munitions and equipment due to US sanctions against Russia.

“While we assess that the amount of material supplied to Wagner has not changed the battlefield dynamics in Ukraine, we do expect it to continue to receive North Korean weapons systems. We, of course, condemn North Korea’s actions and we urge North Korea to immediately cease these supplies to Wagner and we are moving forward by taking action against Wagner himself,” he said.

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John Kirby speaks at a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on January 20, 2023

(UKTN via Getty Images)

Wagner’s designation as a transnational criminal organization follows the Commerce Department’s decision last month to designate the group of mercenaries as a military end-user, making it illegal for the group to access equipment containing U.S. components or something based on American technology.

“These actions recognize the transcontinental threat posed by Wagner, including through his continued pattern of serious criminal activity,” he said. “Our message to any company considering supporting Wagner is simple: Wagner is a criminal organization engaged in widespread atrocities and human rights violations. And we will work relentlessly to identify, expose and attack those who help disrupt.”

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