The Wagner gang from Russia, which is thought to have thousands of mercenaries in Ukraine, will be labeled a “transnational criminal organization” by the US.
Next week, more penalties will be put in place against the organization and its network of supporters, according to the White House.
National security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Friday that “[it] is] committing crimes and human rights abuses in Ukraine and abroad.”
In Ukraine, there are currently about 50,000 Wagner mercenaries, he continued.
With the new designation, the US government will be able to impose harsher penalties against the paramilitary organization, which has also operated in dangerous locations like Syria, Libya, and the Central African Republic.
Approximately 80% of the Wagner forces sent to Ukraine, according to Mr. Kirby, were from jails.
The controversial founder of Wagner, industrialist and supporter of Vladimir Putin Yevgeny Prigozhin, has become a rival to Russia’s conventional military forces, and the US believes that tensions between Russian officials and him are “growing.”
According to Mr. Kirby, US intelligence images depict Russian rail carriages traveling into North Korea, where they are claimed to have picked up infantry rockets and missiles for use by the Wagner forces.
Wagner’s supporters will be identified, disrupted, made public, and targeted, he vowed.
According to the US, deliveries of weapons from North Korea are against decisions made by the UN Security Council. The Security Council committee in charge of imposing sanctions against North Korea has finally received the intelligence.
According to Mr. Kirby, “We do anticipate that it [Wagner] will continue to receive North Korean weapon systems.” We express our clear condemnation of North Korea’s behavior and demand that it immediately stop providing goods to Wagner. We also go further by taking action against Wagner.
When asked about Mr. Kirby’s remarks, Mr. Prigozhin did not immediately respond to the US allegations, according to Reuters.
The private army in Ukraine has recently been substantially committed to Russia’s operation to conquer the city of Bakhmut in the country’s east, but the US does not believe that this has had a material impact on the combat there.
There, Ukrainian soldiers claim that Wagner forces have sustained significant losses as a result of being told to move through open ground while coming under fire.
After authorities claimed that Wagner was being used to help Mr. Prigozhin become rich through mining holdings in Sudan and the Central African Republic, Wagner became the target of new US sanctions in September 2020.
In an effort to exert control over the salt and gypsum mines in the region, Mr. Prigozhin may have sent Wagner troops to the Bakhmut attack, according to US authorities.