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Sanctions chief of the Russian Wagner Group in Mali, accused of arms trafficking for the fight against Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. on Thursday sanctioned the leader of the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group in Mali, citing what it said were indications that the Kremlin was trying to use the West African nation as a way station for arms shipments to Russian troops in Ukraine.

The Treasury Department sanctions target local Wagner Group official Ivan Maslov and refer to unspecified signs that his staffers were in the process of purchasing mines, drones and other weapons systems from foreign suppliers for delivery to Russian fighters in Ukraine.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller spoke about those US suspicions earlier this week. “We have not seen any indication to date that these acquisitions have been completed or executed, but we are closely monitoring the situation,” Miller said.

Headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Wagner Group is a private military contractor whose paramilitary forces fight for Russia in Ukraine and also expand Russia’s influence in developing countries in the southern hemisphere.

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In Africa, the Wagner Group has negotiated deals in Mali, the Central African Republic, Libya and elsewhere, providing security for often autocratic national leaders, often in exchange for a share of the local extraction of gold and other resources.

Regional experts and others accuse the Kremlin of using its operations in Mali and elsewhere in Africa as a funding source and logistical hub for its 15-month-old invasion of Ukraine. Russia denies wrongdoing.

The US has sanctioned the Wagner Group and its leaders over the Russian attack on Ukraine and rights violations, at least since 2017.

The United States also imposed visa restrictions on two Malian military commanders on Thursday. The sentences were related to a 2022 massacre in which Malian forces backed by foreign fighters killed at least 500 people in a village in central Mali, according to the UN. France and other countries have said the foreign fighters were Wagner mercenaries.

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