EU imposes sanctions on Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries
The European Union has imposed sanctions on Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group that it accuses of committing violence and human rights abuses in Syria, Ukraine, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Libya and Mozambique.
EU foreign ministers agreed to asset freezes and travel bans on eight individuals involved with the military firm, including founder Dmitry Utkin, and three oil firms linked to the organisation in Syria.
The EU said Utkin, a former Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer, is responsible for “coordinating and planning operations for the deployment of Wagner Group mercenaries in Ukraine”.
The Wagner Group first came to prominence in 2014, when its troops were reported to be fighting in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine.
The EU ministers said the firm carries out clandestine operations on the Kremlin‘s behalf, allowing Russia to deny involvement.
“The Wagner Group has recruited, trained and sent private military operatives to conflict zones around the world to fuel violence, loot natural resources and intimidate civilians in violation of international law, including international human rights law,” the EU stated.
The foreign ministers accused the eight people targeted of “serious human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings, or in destabilising activities in some of the countries they operate in, including Libya, Syria, Ukraine (Donbas) and the Central African Republic.”
The statement said the Wagner Group, whose members are mostly ex-service personnel, was “also spreading its malign influence elsewhere, notably in the Sahel region”. Brussels said the group’s mercenaries threatened the countries where they operate, neighbouring countries and overall EU security.
The United Nations has accused the Wagner Group of human rights abuses in the Central African Republic and Libya.
France and Germany have condemned Wagner’s deployments in Mali.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called Wagner “a company of Russian mercenaries which makes war by proxy on Russia’s account”. “Even if Russia denies it, nobody is fooled,” he added.
The EU said the Wagner Group is financed by St Petersburg tycoon Yevgeny Prigozhin.
He is said to have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and is dubbed “Putin’s cook”.
Prigozhin already faces EU and US sanctions for destabilising Libya and meddling in US elections.
He denied any links to the group.
Russia’s veteran foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said the firm has a “legitimate” right to be in Mali because it was invited by the impoverished state’s transitional government. He denied Russian government involvement.
In 2018, Putin said if the group was not violating Russian law, it had the right to work and promote its interests abroad.
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