US classifies Russia's Wagner Group as criminal organisation

White House has accused mercenary group of supplying weapons to Moscow to aid invasion of Ukraine

A man walks out of the PMC Wagner Centre during its opening in St Petersburg, Russia. Reuters
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The US on Thursday formally designated Russia's Wagner Group as a transnational “significant” criminal organisation and imposed sanctions on numerous entities associated with it, the Treasury and State departments announced on Thursday.

The White House last week previewed the coming sanctions against the Wagner Group after releasing images supporting Washington's claim that the paramilitary organisation had received a weapons shipment from North Korea for use in Russia's war in Ukraine.

The Wagner Group has also been supplying soldiers to aid Russia's invasion and had previously claimed to have taken control of the Ukrainian city of Soledar.

The US claims President Vladimir Putin has grown more reliant on the mercenaries, as the Russian military struggles to defeat Ukrainian forces.

“As sanctions and export controls on Russia from our international coalition continue to bite, the Kremlin is desperately searching for arms and support — including through the brutal Wagner Group — to continue its unjust war against Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said.

Members of the Wager Group are alleged to have played roles in mass executions, rape, child abductions and physical abuse while destabilising nations in Africa.

Yevgeniy Prigozhin, its leader, is already a target of US sanctions.

The Treasury hit entities across several continents linked to the group, including Sewa Security Services, a company owned by the Wagner Group that operates in the Central African Republic.

Also included was the Officer’s Union for International Security, which the US says represents Russian “instructors” in the Central African Republic. Aleksandr Ivanov, director of OUIS, was sanctioned as well.

The sanctions imposed by Washington freeze all of the Wagner Group's or associated entities' US-based assets.

“Today’s expanded sanctions on Wagner, as well as new sanctions on their associates and other companies enabling the Russian military complex, will further impede Putin’s ability to arm and equip his war machine,” Ms Yellen said.

Separately, the State Department announced sanctions on five entities and one person linked to the Wagner Group and Mr Prigozhin. Additional people have been sanctioned for their involvement in Russia's military complex.

The State Department has also designated two yachts — Addiction and Annata — as blocked property, in addition to an aircraft owned by Russian businessman Sergei Adonev.

Updated: January 31, 2023, 4:06 PM