U.S. Toughens Sanctions Against Russian Mercenary Group

January 26, 2023

On Thursday the U.S. toughened sanctions levied against the Russian mercenary group Wagner, labeling it a transnational criminal organization responsible for human rights abuses.

Wagner’s mercenaries have been doing battle in the eastern Donetsk towns of Bakhmut and Soledar, where Western and Ukrainian officials accuse the organization of using convicts as cannon fodder.

The abuses extend beyond Ukraine, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. 

“Wagner personnel have engaged in an ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity, including mass executions, rape, child abductions, and physical abuse in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali,” Treasury said in a statement.

The newest sanctions are meant to “target a range of Wagner’s key infrastructure—including an aviation firm used by Wagner, a Wagner propaganda organization, and Wagner front companies,” according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

In addition to targeting Wagner, the Treasury and State Departments jointly announced sanctions against a wide group of individuals and companies tied to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“This action supports our goal to degrade Moscow’s capacity to wage war against Ukraine, to promote accountability for those responsible for Russia’s war of aggression and associated abuses, and to place further pressure on Russia’s defense sector,” said Blinken.

The latest round of sanctions follow curbs on technology exports unveiled by the Biden Administration in December to try to further choke off supplies to Wagner.

In November the State Department also designated Wagner for operating in the defense sector of the Russian economy, and accused the group of seeking to purchase Iranian drones, probably to support its operations in Ukraine.

All of this comes after Wagner had been added to a U.S. trade blacklist in 2017 after Russia annexed Crimea.

Russia’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to reporters’ requests for comment. 

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