The UK government is on the cusp of proscribing the Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries as a terrorist organisation, according to reports.
Government sources quoted by the Financial Times said the move would happen “within weeks”.
They defended the UK's decision to hold off on a proscription for Wagner following months of pressure from MPs.
“People think you can do this type of thing immediately, but it takes time to build a detailed, watertight legal case,” one source said.
A proscription would put the paramilitary unit, made up mostly of convicts, in the same category as Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Under the Terrorism Act 2000 if a group is designated as a terror entity it is a criminal offence for anyone in the UK to belong or profess to belong to the organisation and display logos associated with the group.
Wagner has played a key role in Russia’s war in Ukraine and its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has taken credit for several battlefield victories including the capture of the strategic eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
MPs have criticised successive British governments’ inaction on the Wagner Group.
Lawmakers have warned the UK’s lax approach towards Wagner over the past decade has allowed the network to grow and spread its influence in Africa and exploit vulnerable nations.
Fighters from Mr Prigozhin’s group have been accused of committing atrocities alongside the Malian army fighting Islamists.
The UK sanctioned 13 individuals and businesses linked to Wagner in July, accusing them of being involved in the execution and torture of civilians in Mali, Sudan and Central African Republic.
The Biden administration also imposed sanctions on senior military officials in Mali’s junta for their alleged involvement with the Wagner Group.
US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin has referred to Wagner as a “terrorist” cell, but the government in Washington has shied away from a proscription.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Tuesday condemned the fighting between militias in Libya’s coastal city of Tripoli and said instability in Sudan and Niger could spiral into wider violence.
She also said the US will continue to “shine a spotlight on the Wagner Group’s pernicious impact in Libya and across Africa.”
She noted how the Russian group operates in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sudan and said its leadership “has made no secret of its ambition to gain a further foothold in Africa, and its disregard for Libya’s territorial integrity”.
Mr Prigozhin, 62, resurfaced in a video this week – his first appearance in footage since leading a failed mutiny against Moscow in June.
The clip, shot in a desert setting, showed him wearing army fatigues and holding a gun.
He suggested he was in Africa, telling the camera “the temperature is plus 50°C”.
He said Wagner fighters are engaged in reconnaissance missions and “making Russia even greater on all continents, and Africa even more free”.