Russian Wagner mercenary army is labeled as a criminal enterprise by the US
Around 50,000 fighters from the Wagner Group are said to be present in Ukraine; 80% of them came from Russian prisons.
As pressure mounts on the private army that has enlisted tens of thousands of Russian inmates to fight in Ukraine, the United States has labeled the Wagner mercenary group in Russia as a “transnational criminal organization.”
John Kirby, the spokesman for national security at the White House, claimed on Friday that Yevgeny Prigozhin, a billionaire close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was in control of Wagner, which had 50,000 militants in Ukraine, 80 percent of whom were recruited from the Russian penal system.
Kirby stated that Wagner “is a criminal organization that is committing extensive crimes and human rights violations.”
He declared, “We will fight tirelessly to identify, disrupt, expose, and target any who are aiding Wagner.”
The private mercenary group has evolved into a rival to the official Russian military, according to Kirby, who also displayed images from US intelligence showing North Korea allegedly giving weapons to Wagner for his activities in Ukraine.
The images, taken between November 18 and 19, show Russian rail trains entering North Korea, loading up with infantry rockets and missiles, and then leaving for Russia, according to Kirby.
He said that Wagner had been formally designated by the US Treasury as a transnational criminal organization, aligning it with the Italian mafia as well as with Japanese, Russian, and organized crime.
The classification will enable a wider range of penalties to be applied against the organization’s extensive global network, which includes mercenary operations as well as companies in Africa and other places.
According to US executive order 13581, Wagner has been designated as a “Transnational Criminal Organization,” which prevents US citizens from contributing money, commodities, or services to the organisation and freezes any US assets the organization may have there.
Kirby added that the United States had informed the UN Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee about Wagner’s acquisitions of North Korean weapons. He claimed that the transfers of weapons from North Korea are a clear breach of resolutions made by the UN Security Council.
Last month, Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin denied receiving weapons from North Korea and called the report “gossip and guesswork.”
When asked for a response to Kirby’s remarks on Friday, Prigozhin did not directly address the US accusations but stated that they demonstrated that Wagner and the US were “colleagues” who were both engaged in “dismantling criminal clans,” which is apparently a reference to Russia’s assertion that its war is intended to overthrow what it considers Ukraine’s illegitimate government.
Kirby added that there is proof that Prigozhin’s assurance in the relative success of his forces in Ukraine has led to conflicts within the Kremlin.
Kirby claimed that Wagner was “becoming a competing power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries.” “Prigozhin is attempting to further his own interests in Ukraine, and Wagner is making military decisions largely based on what they will produce in terms of favorable press for Prigozhin.”