Washington designates the Russian Wagner group as a criminal organization

The United States on Friday designated the Russian paramilitary group Wagner as an international criminal organization, denouncing its abuses committed in Ukraine, its use of weapons delivered by North Korea and its massive recruitment of detainees.

“Wagner is a criminal organization that commits vast atrocities and human rights abuses,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

“We continue to consider that the Wagner group currently has some 50,000 people deployed in Ukraine, including 10,000 mercenaries and 40,000 prisoners” to such an extent that this arouses the “reservations” of the Russian Ministry of Defense on its “recruitment methods”, has he said.

The official announced that Washington would take other sanctions soon against the Wagner group, in the wake of the designation Friday of the group as a criminal organization in the image of the Mafia or other organizations linked to organized crime, such as the yakuza.

– Russian trains –

He also showed the press satellite images taken by US intelligence of supposed Russian train cars leaving Russia bound for North Korea and then returning to Russian territory with military equipment, including rockets for the Wagner Group in Ukraine.

The images were taken on November 18 and 19, he said, adding that the United States had passed this information to the UN Security Council as part of the sanctions targeting Pyongyang.

The paramilitary group is led by Yevgeny Prigojine, a 61-year-old Russian businessman close to President Vladimir Putin, and is very active in the fierce battle to take Bakhmout in eastern Ukraine.

It operates elsewhere in the world, particularly in Africa.

“We will work tirelessly to identify, expose and target all who assist Wagner,” said John Kirby.

According to Washington, the group is growing in strength and now rivals Russian forces.

– “Tensions” with the Russian army –

“We have intelligence information that tensions between Wagner and the Department of Defense are escalating,” he said.

“Wagner is becoming a center of power competing with the Russian army and other Russian ministries,” said the American official for whom “Prigojine advances his own interests in Ukraine”.

“Wagner makes military decisions on the overall basis of what they will generate favorable for him in particular in terms of publicity”, he added.

The divisions between the Russian army and the Wagner group, noted by many observers, burst into the open during the battle for the small town of Soledar, in eastern Ukraine.

When Mr. Prigozhin claimed responsibility for taking Soledar, he was quickly contradicted by the Russian Ministry of Defense, which itself announced the capture of the city two days later, which kyiv denied.

Since last summer, Wagner’s troops and the Russian army have been trying to seize Bakhmout, this city in the Donetsk region (east) with a questionable strategic interest but which has acquired great symbolic weight.

The Kremlin, however, on Monday denied any tension between the Russian army and the paramilitary group, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking of “manipulation”.

The Wagner Group, founded in 2014, has recruited thousands of inmates to fight in Ukraine in exchange for sentence reductions. Formerly discreet, Mr. Prigojine has established himself as a major player in the conflict in Ukraine.

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