EU hits Russian mercenary group Wagner with sanctions
The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions on Russian private military contractor Wagner Group as well as eight people and three other energy companies in Syria accused of helping finance mercenaries in Ukraine, Libya and Syria. The EU accused the Wagner group, most of whose members are former military personnel, of human rights violations and said it carried out clandestine operations on behalf of the Kremlin.
“The Wagner group is responsible for serious human rights violations in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Central African Republic, Sudan and Mozambique,” the EU said in its official journal, listing torture and extrajudicial killings. Russia denies any wrongdoing. President Vladimir Putin has said that private military contractors have the right to work and pursue their interests anywhere in the world as long as they do not break Russian law. Putin said the Wagner group neither represents the Russian state nor is paid by the Russian state.
Travel bans and asset freezes – designed to prevent any government from working with the Wagner Group – are unlikely to have a big impact in Moscow, but they mark a further hardening of the EU’s foreign policy towards the Russia, diplomats said. Among those targeted, the EU blacklisted Dimitriy Utkin, a former Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer, claiming he was the founder of the Wagner group and responsible for “the coordination and planning of deployed operations mercenaries of the Wagner group in Ukraine “.
Two others, Denis Kharitonov and Sergey Shcherbakov, were among a group of suspected Wagner mercenaries who were briefly detained in Belarus last year and returned to Russia, according to Belarusian state news agency Belta. The EU also said that Kharitonov had fought for Russia in eastern Ukraine, “personally shot down a Ukrainian helicopter” in the region and “received the Russian Federation Order of Merit for the Fatherland. “.
Three Russian-based entities linked to the Wagner Group that the EU says were involved in oil and gas production in Syria have also been hit with sanctions. The sanctions follow an EU travel ban and an assets freeze in October 2020 against former Russian caterer Yevgeny Prigozhin, dubbed “Putin’s cook” for his close ties to the Kremlin, which the block, had close ties to the Wagner group.
“The Wagner group is funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin,” the EU said in its official journal on Monday. Prigozhin denied such links in a statement Friday.
Separately, the EU adopted a sanctions regime for Mali on Monday, although no name was added. Reuters reported https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/exclusive-deal-allowing-russian-mercenaries-into-mali-is-close-sources-2021-09-13 in September that the Malian military junta was in talks on the deployment of the Wagner group in Mali, which France considers unacceptable because it has its own troops in the region. (Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, Anastasia Teterevleva and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow, editing by Angus MacSwan)
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