The Wagner Group of Russia is a source of concern for the United States, especially in light of recent allegations that the group has resumed hiring fresh mercenaries for its ranks.
This was said by the U.S. spokeswoman on Wednesday at a press conference in Washington. Ukrinform journalist Matthew Miller reports from the Department of State.
In response to rumors that the Wagner Group had started recruiting new terrorists, the State Department official stated, “We always have concerns about the Wagner Group’s activities, whether they be in Ukraine or whether they are anywhere in Africa.”
He claims that for this reason, the US and its allies have taken action to hold the members of this group responsible.
Wagner Group reportedly revived its recruiting drive, at least in the Ural area of Russia, according to Russian media, as Ukrinform had previously reported. The son of the organization’s late commander, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who perished in an unidentified passenger plane disaster, is purportedly currently in charge of it.
The Wagner Group, reportedly employing thousands of mercenaries in Ukraine, will be classified as a “transnational criminal organization” by the US. Next week, the organization and its network of supporters will face more penalties, according to the White House.
National security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Friday that “it is committing atrocities and human rights abuses in Ukraine and elsewhere.”
Around 50,000 Wagner mercenaries were currently operating in Ukraine, he continued.
With the new classification, the US government will be able to target the paramilitary organization more broadly. In addition to other hotspots, the group has operated in Syria, Libya, and the Central African Republic.
He went on to say that the group has turned into a rival to Russia’s conventional armed forces and that there are what the US perceives to be “mounting tensions” between Russian authorities and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the controversial creator of Wagner’s and Putin’s friends.
According to Mr. Kirby, US intelligence photos purport to show Russian rail trains entering North Korea, where they are purportedly gathering missiles and infantry rockets for potential deployment by Wagner forces.
“We will work relentlessly to identify, disrupt, expose, and target those who are assisting Wagner,” he stated.
The United States of America considers that resolutions passed by the UN Security Council are broken by North Korean weaponry deliveries. The Security Council body tasked with imposing sanctions on North Korea has finally received the intelligence.
“We do expect that [Wagner] will continue to receive North Korean weapon systems,” added Kirby. “We obviously condemn North Korea’s actions, and we urge North Korea to cease these deliveries to Wagner immediately. We are going further by taking action against Wagner itself.”
When questioned about Mr. Kirby’s remarks, Mr. Prigozhin declined to explicitly respond to the US charges, according to Reuters.
The US does not think that North Korean weapon supplies have significantly affected the conflict in Ukraine, where Russia’s latest efforts to seize Bakhmut, a city in the country’s east, have involved a large private army.
According to Ukrainian soldiers, Wagner forces were instructed to move over open ground while under fire and, as a result, incurred significant fatalities.
Wagner was the target of additional US sanctions in September 2020, according to officials, who claimed that Wagner was being used to support Mr. Prigozhin’s mining ventures in Sudan and the Central African Republic.
Additionally, according to US officials, Mr. Prigozhin could have sent Wagner forces to the Bakhmut assault in an attempt to seize control of the region’s gypsum and salt resources.
What is the Wagner Group?
BBC News states that Wagner, according to Yevgeny Prigozhin, was formed in 2014.
Wagner registered as a “private military company” in 2022, despite the fact that mercenary troops are theoretically forbidden in Russia. A rich businessman and convicted felon, Prigozhin was dubbed “Putin’s chef” for his culinary services to the Kremlin. Dmitry Utkin, a former officer in the Russian special forces, was Wagner’s first field commander. The name of the organization came from his radio call sign.
The majority of Wagner’s mercenaries were originally recruited from elite Russian troops and special forces; the group’s first estimate was 5,000 members. But in exchange for pardons, Prigozhin enlisted convicts from Russian prisons to fight in Ukraine in 2022. He claimed that the gang had 25,000 fighters in June. Additionally, the organization has conducted operations in Libya, Mali, Sudan, Syria, and the Central African Republic.
The Wagner group has been previously accused of crimes. Along with regular Russian forces, three Wagner mercenaries are accused by Ukrainian prosecutors of killing and torturing citizens in the vicinity of Kiev in April 2022. Wagner forces may have also slaughtered residents in Bucha in March 2022, according to German intelligence.
Wagner was accused of “executions and torture in Mali and the Central African Republic and threats to peace and security in Sudan” by the UK, which sanctioned its companies in Africa in July 2023. Wagner mercenaries were previously charged by the US military with laying landmines in and around Tripoli, the capital of Libya.
Wagner forces fought hard in the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, which they took for Russia in May 2023.
Wagner’s forces suffered heavy casualties, and Prigozhin frequently criticized Valery Gerasimov, the head of Russia’s army, and Sergei Shoigu, the minister of defense, for not providing enough supplies to them.