The Wagner group sanctioned by the European Union

It is a message of firmness addressed to Moscow. The European Union (EU) on Monday (December 13) sanctioned the Russian private security company Wagner as well as eight people and three companies linked to it, the EU council said in a statement.

The decision was unanimously approved by EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, and was published in Official Journal of the European Union for immediate entry into force. The Wagner Group is accused of having “Recruited, trained and dispatched private military agents to conflict zones around the world to fuel violence, plunder natural resources and intimidate civilians in violation of international law, including international human rights law”, specifies the press release.

“Those on the EU list are implicated in serious human rights violations, including acts of torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings, or in destabilizing activities in some of the countries where they operate , in particular in Libya, in Syria, in Donbass in Ukraine and in the Central African Republic ”, according to the same source.

The founder and his collaborators

European sanctions hit the founder and military commander of the Wagner Group, Dmitry Utkin, a former Russian military intelligence officer (GRU), and several of his collaborators, including Valery Zakharov, security advisor to the President of the Central African Republic, Faustin- Archangel Touadéra, Denis Kharitonov, military leader in the breakaway region of Donbass, Ukraine, and Andrei Troshev, group director general for operations in Syria. The other four people targeted are mercenaries active in Ukraine, Syria and Libya.

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Three companies linked to the Wagner Group, Evro Polis, Mercury and Velada, are also targeted. They are established in Syria, in the gas and oil sectors. The sanctions consist of a visa ban for people and the freezing of assets in the EU.

“Today’s decision aims to put an end to the subversive activities of the Wagner Group. It is a testament to the EU’s firm determination to defend its interests and values ​​in its neighborhood and beyond, and to take concrete action against those who threaten international peace and security and violate international law ”, explains the press release. “Wagner is a private Russian military company used to destabilize security in Europe and in third countries in its vicinity, especially in Africa”, underlined a European diplomat.

Russian denials

Russian President Vladimir Putin denies any direct connection with the paramilitary group, deeming the activities of mercenaries acceptable as long as they do not violate Russian law. These sanctions are unlikely to change the Kremlin but they mark a further hardening of the position of the Twenty-Seven towards Russia and aim to discourage other countries from using the services of the Wagner Group, underline diplomats.

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In 2020, the EU sanctioned the Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigojine, close to Russian power and considered the financier of the Wagner Group, recalls the decision adopted on Monday by the foreign ministers. The company is reported in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa where Russia has a presence, including Mali and the Central African Republic, but it is also active in Libya, Syria and Ukraine.

The EU has also approved a sanctions regime linked to Mali, without however targeting specific individuals. Its adoption, however, constitutes a warning for the junta in power in Bamako, as it has initiated a rapprochement with the Wagner Group and distanced itself from France, which has been intervening militarily against jihadist groups in the Sahel since 2013. The EU is worried about the will of the military junta to use the services of Wagner. France warned Moscow that the deployment of Russian mercenaries in the Sahelo-Saharan strip would be “Unacceptable”.

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Le Monde with AFP and Reuters