Putin’s bloody private army is still not sanctioned by the EU

Headquarters of the Wagner Group in St. Petersburg, Russia, 03 February 2023. [EPA-EFE/ANATOLY MALTSEV]

We all remember the images of atrocities in many Ukrainian cities after Russian troops were forced to withdraw from northern Ukraine in March 2022. A group of authors writes that the Kremlin-linked paramilitary group Wagner, responsible for those war crimes, was recognized as a transnational criminal organization by the United States.

Yet the group is not under similar sanctions by the EU, although the mechanism for that exists. There is ample evidence for the EU to take the long overdue step and recognize Wagner as a terrorist formation, taking into account not only their barbarism in Ukraine but also in Africa and the Middle East.

Rape, torture, cruel executions of civilians, killing their own soldiers with sledgehammers

The methods of waging war by the Wagner group are terrifying, but at the same time they can be easily explained. The owner of the group, Evgeniy Prigozhin, served a term for robbery, and 80% of his fast-growing army in 2022 was composed of prisoners.

For years, the Wagner group was considered to be Putin’s private army. It was deployed in Africa and the Middle East, with the goal of increasing Russia’s power in the area by helping local dictators use military power to rule their countries.

In 2022, the number of soldiers in the Wagner group increased from 5,000 to 50,000.

The goal was mainly to use them in Ukraine. However, we should not look away from what the Wagner group managed to do in the rest of the world while all eyes were on Kyiv. Here are just a few examples.

According to The New York Times, in the Central African Republic, Wagner mercenaries were able to seize power in the country. They invaded the gold-mining town of Aïgbando and set homes ablaze, forcing hundreds of people to flee and killing several dozen civilians. They opened fire at the al-Takwa mosque in Bambari, leaving behind killed and wounded civilians, including children.

In March 2022, Forces Armées Maliennes and Wagner troops laid siege to Moura in an alleged counterterrorism operation in Mali. Around 300 civilians were brutally executed by the soldiers.

In Sudan, Wagner Group operatives fired into crowds of workers and bystanders in an effort to take over local gold mines on at least three occasions in the spring of 2022.

These are just a few examples of the terrorist acts of the Wagner group. But those stories also highlight another problem—new sources of power and income for Putin’s army.

In fact, this tactic secured critical concessions for exclusive access to the mineral wealth of several African states, including uranium, diamonds, and gold.

For example, Wagner’s operations in Mali give it an income of $10 million per month. In addition, Prigozhin’s group received 78% of the shares in the Mali Marina Gold national company, which is responsible for gold mining and processing.

If the Wagner Group was Putin’s small and brutal pocket army before 2022, it is now a large formation with its own tanks, artillery, air defense, and aviation. It is better equipped than some regular military units of Russia and receives support from the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation on a par with army formations.

So why is it still not on the sanction list of the EU? It’s sanctioned by the US; in Canada, the parliament adopted a motion to designate the Wagner Group a terrorist organization at the end of January. Is the EU afraid? The proper response to the terrorist actions of the Wagner Group has been delayed for too long.

The official designation of if as a terrorist group is less complicated than recognizing Russia as a terrorist state. Furthermore, it is more effective than the prosecution of war crimes, since it does not require any cooperation with the Russian authorities and has a much more immediate effect without precluding it.

The Wagner Group has been responsible for intentional attacks upon the lives of civilians aimed at their intimidation, and therefore “terrorist acts.” Currently there are more than 20   listed by EU as terroby thest formations, among them Hamas, Hezbollah Hezbollah,urdistan Workers’ Party.

The EU should immediately follow the US, freeze the organisation’s assets, sanction legal entities and individuals associated with Wagner and outlaw the collaboration of countries, institutions, and companies with it.

This would reduce the ability of the group to engage in violence-enforced commercial activities, restrain their perpetration of atrocities, and help to protect innocent people around the globe.

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