UK sanctions Russian Wagner mercenary group

The Russian mercenaries are fighting in Libya for Khalifa Hifter’s forces

Moscow is increasingly using mercenaries to expand its spheres of influence. [Getty].
The UK government has sanctioned the Russian Wagner Group allegedly tasked with assassinating Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and accused of war crimes in Libya and Syria.

The latest round of sanctions announced on Thursday has targeted 65 individuals, institutions and strategic industries that the UK sees as crucial to Russia’s military efforts in Ukraine.

These organisations included Russian Railways, which has been responsible for moving troops and military materials to aid the war effort, and Russian drone manufacturers Kronshtadt.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said “these oligarchs, businesses and hired thugs are complicit in the murder of innocent civilians and it is right that they pay the price”.

The group, which is believed to be run by an oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin, first emerged as a fighting force alongside pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine and went on to appear in several conflicts in the MENA region.

The Wagner Group has been active in Libya and the Sahel for several years and was accused of war crimes while assisting warlord Khalifa Haftar’s efforts to seize Tripoli between 2019 and 2020.

The group is also accused of war crimes in Syria, where Russia has been militarily involved in support of Bashar al-Assad.

Last year, the BBC in Russia asked an ex-fighter to describe the role and functions of the Wagner group. He replied: “It is a structure, aimed at promoting the interests of the state beyond our country’s borders.”

The group is believed to have around 6,000 serving members but is not formally registered in Russia or any other country – operating without any oversight and at arm’s length from the Kremlin, alongside formal Russian military operations.

Most recently, Western diplomats accused the Wagner group of “illicit activities” in Sudan connected to gold mining and disinformation efforts. The group has previously been sanctioned by both the US and the EU.

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