Wagner group: US labels Russian mercenary group as ‘transnational criminal organization’



CNN

The US Treasury Department will label the Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group a “transnational criminal organization” and will impose additional sanctions on the group and its support network around the world next week, the White House said Friday.

“These actions recognize the transcontinental threat posed by Wagner, including through his continued pattern of serious criminal activity,” National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby told reporters Friday ahead of the Department of Defense’s announcement. Finance.

Along with the new sanctions, the US released recently declassified photos of Russian railcars traveling from Russia to North Korea and back in November in what the US says was the first delivery of infantry missiles and missiles for use by the Wagner Group mercenary organization in Ukraine .

This US government aerial photo shows Russian railcars traveling between Russia and North Korea.

Kirby said that while the US does not believe the equipment has changed battlefield dynamics in Ukraine, the US expects such shipments of weapons systems from North Korea to Russia to continue. Russia has also received equipment, including drones, from Iran as its military supplies have dwindled over the course of the war.

“The arms transfers of [North Korea] are in direct violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution,” Kirby said, adding that the US has shared its intelligence with the panel of experts of the North Korean Security Council sanctions committee.

A senior Western intelligence official echoed that assessment on Friday, telling reporters that the West is “certainly concerned that North Korea plans to expand and deliver more military equipment or to support those deliveries.”

More broadly, the US believes tensions between the Russian Defense Ministry and Wagner are growing as Russian President Vladimir Putin increasingly relies on Wagner to conduct operations in Ukraine. According to Kirby, about 50,000 Wagner Group fighters are currently deployed in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts.

“Wagner is becoming a rival center of power for the Russian military and other Russian ministries,” Kirby said, and the US has intelligence suggesting that the Russian Defense Ministry “has reservations” about Wagner’s heavy recruitment from Russian prisons.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, has complained that the Russian Ministry of Defense has screwed up the war effort and that Wagner fighters should be given more equipment, authority and autonomy to conduct operations in Ukraine.

A senior US official told CNN last month that the Wagner Group has lost thousands of fighters in Ukraine in the past two months alone, most heavily during its operations around Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. But they have also proved more effective than the Russian military in some areas, Pentagon officials said.

Tensions between Kremlin defense officials and leaders of the Wagner group have also increased after public complaints from the mercenaries that their equipment is running low and that their leader, Prigozhin, wants to take control of the lucrative salt mines at Bakhmut.

In a video shown on Russian state media, fighters from the Wagner Group complain that they are running out of combat vehicles, artillery shells and ammunition, limiting their ability to capture Bakhmut – shortages that Prigozhin then blames on “internal bureaucracy and corruption “.

The US believes that Prigozhin’s open opposition to the Russian Defense Ministry is an attempt to generate positive publicity for itself.

“Prigozhin is trying to advance his own interests in Ukraine,” Kirby said Friday. “And Wagner makes military decisions based largely on what will generate positive publicity for Prigozhin.”

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