The Russian mercenary group Wagner will be banned by the British government as a terrorist organization under the Terrorism Act 2000.
The step is significant, but is considered by some to be long overdue.
It follows criticism from Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee that the government had not done enough to deal with Wagner’s activities.
What is Wagner?
The Wagner Group is a private military group funded by the Kremlin and active in advancing Russian interests around the world.
Created in 2014 with help from the GRU’s Russian military intelligence, its core members were former Russian Spetsnaz (Special Forces) operatives and career soldiers with a reputation for both toughness and brutality.
They have fought on behalf of Russia in Ukraine, particularly in the Donbas, Syria and several countries in Africa.
Led by the late Russian billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin, they have proved Russia’s most effective fighting force in the war in Ukraine, largely because they have been able to operate independently of Russia’s inefficient and often incompetent defense ministry.
President Vladimir Putin recently admitted that the Kremlin financed Wagner for a billion dollars. But the money flows both ways.
Wagner won lucrative contracts in countries such as Mali, the Central African Republic and Sudan, providing autocratic rulers with security and protection services in exchange for concessions in gold, diamonds and minerals. Much of the proceeds have returned to Moscow and financed the Russian war effort.
Human rights groups have accused Wagner of perpetrating widespread torture and atrocities in a number of countries.
The interior minister stated: “Wagner has been involved in looting, torture and barbaric murder. His operations in Ukraine, the Middle East and Africa pose a threat to global security.” The government says it poses a threat to British nationals abroad.
What difference will this ban make?
The ban on Wagner, once it becomes law, will make it a criminal offense to be a member of the group or to support its activities, including transferring money. Some offenses carry a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
This law will result in Wagner’s assets being classified as ‘terrorist property’ and seized. This has huge legal ramifications for the thousands of Ukrainians seeking damages, meaning they can now, in theory, take them to court in the UK.
Dr. Jason McCue, senior partner at the law firm McCue Jury & Partners, applauded Britain’s move. He said it would “make it nearly impossible for the operations, finances and logistics of the postmodern terror organization to continue.”
He described the Wagner group as “one of the most vicious, sadistic mercenaries to rival the depravities of the worst elements of (Nazi Germany’s) Waffen SS”.
Does Wagner still pose a threat to global security?
Yes, according to the British government, which is why they ban it.
Some might say that this measure comes so late – more than a year after many called for a ban on Wagner – that it is almost a question of closing the stable door after the horse runs away that the government should have acted sooner to curtail its activities. activities when Wagner was at the height of his power.
Wagner is already a weaker organization today than it was three months ago, before it staged a mutinous and aborted march on Moscow.
Since then, the country has been effectively hampered by the Kremlin and forced to surrender its heavy weapons and sign new contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry.
His forces no longer fight in Ukraine. Instead, they have been scattered between Belarus and Africa, while others have joined the Russian army or simply gone home.
The leadership is beheaded after a mysterious plane crash in August that killed Wagner’s leader, deputy leader and finance director. Western officials said this was President Putin’s revenge for the mutiny. The Kremlin has denied any involvement.
But Wagner remains a sizeable and potentially disruptive force in several countries where it operates. Poland and the Baltic states are concerned that the country will try to cause problems on the border with Belarus.
In West Africa, his troops have replaced the French in a number of countries.
Analysts and Kremlin observers now expect Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, to take over much of Wagner’s leadership and turn away from direct combat and focus more on cyber warfare and deniable operations in the “grey zone.”