U.S. Designates Mercenary Wagner Group—Accused Of Funneling North Korean Weapons To Russia—A ‘Transnational Criminal Organization’


The U.S. Department of Treasury is planning to designate the military company the Wagner Group a “transnational criminal organization,” White House Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby announced on Friday—the latest action against the group as U.S. officials accuse it of increasingly supplying weapons to the Kremlin in its invasion of Ukraine.

Key Facts

In a press conference on Friday, Kirby accused the organization—a group made up of Russian mercenaries—of “committing atrocities and human rights abuses” in Ukraine, as the invasion enters its eleventh month.

Kirby also claimed Putin is increasingly turning to the Wagner Group “as his military continues to struggle in Ukraine,” while the Wagner Group’s owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is “trying to advance his own interests” in the eastern European country.

The designation as a transnational criminal organization under executive order 13581 freezes U.S. assets in the Wagner Group’s control and prohibits U.S. citizens from providing goods, funds or services to them.

The announcement comes one month after U.S. officials accused the group of accepting rockets and missiles from North Korea to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which both Prigozhin and North Korean officials denied.

In the press conference, however, Kirby presented photos showing train cars sent into North Korea from Russia, and returning filled with weapons, a move that Kirby condemned, asking Korean officials to stop providing weapons to the Wagner Group “immediately.”

Big Number

50,000. That’s how many personnel the Wagner Group has deployed in Ukraine, made up primarily of Russian convicts, as well as roughly 10,000 contracted recruits. Kirby said it’s likely the organization will continue to recruit personnel “right out of Russian prisons.”

Key Background

Last month, the Department of Commerce designated the Wagner Group as a “military end user,” a move that prevents it from accessing equipment “based on U.S. technology or production equipment.” U.S. officials had previously accused the group of supplying military support to Russia last March, just one month into the Kremlin’s invasion, and eight years after it reportedly assisted Russia in its annexation of Crimea. The group has also been connected to Russia’s air campaign during Syria’s civil war in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been accused of carrying out chemical warfare against civilians, as well as African countries including Mali, Mozambique and the Central African Republic, where the U.N. accused mercenaries of having committed “grave human rights abuses.”


The Russian government, however, has maintained it is not linked to the Wagner Group, citing Russian law that makes private military contractors illegal. Tensions between the Russian military—which has lost ground in eastern and southern regions in Ukraine in recent months—and the Wagner Group are growing, Kirby said on Friday, making Wagner a “rival power center” to the Russian Defense Ministry, which has reservations about Wagner’s recruitment from prisons, according to U.S. intelligence, Kirby said.

Crucial Quote

“Our message to any company that is considering providing support to Wagner is simply this: Wagner is a criminal organization that is committing widespread atrocities and human rights abuses, and we will work relentlessly to identify, disrupt, expose and target those who are assisting Wagner,” Kirby said.

What To Watch For

Kirby said the U.S. will also impose sanctions on the Wagner Group as early as next week, with more actions to come.

Further Reading

U.S. plans to impose new sanctions next week against Russia’s Wagner private military group (Reuters)

Treasury to designate Wagner transnational criminal group (Associated Press)

What Is The Wagner Group? This Kremlin-Linked Mercenary Firm Is Reportedly Sending More Operatives Into Ukraine (Forbes)

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/brianbushard/2023/01/20/us-designates-mercenary-wagner-group-accused-of-funneling-north-korean-weapons-to-russia-a-transnational-criminal-organization/