US Puts Russia’s Wagner Group in Same ‘Basket’ with IS, Taliban

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday added infamous private Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group to its religious freedoms blacklist alleging that it threatened religious freedom in the Central African Republic with its actions.

The private military company is designated in the same category as Islamic State, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, IS-Greater Sahara, IS-West Africa, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, and the Taliban.

Although Blinken did not elaborate on Wagner Group’s actions, Human Rights Watch said back in May that since 2019, the mercenary group has summarily executed, tortured, and beaten civilians.

The Russian government-affiliated mercenary group financed army recruits in the Central African Republic, where hostilities have been going on for a decade and have largely pitted religious communities against one another, disproportionately targeting members of religious minority groups during operations against rebel groups.

According to the State Department official and the extensive reporting on the matter done by CNN, in many instances, Wagner was killing Muslim civilians based on perceived and unverified affiliations with armed groups, in some cases engaged in mass killings targeting Fulani communities, and did not discriminate between armed elements and ordinary civilians of religious minority communities.

The official pointed out that the State condemns Wagner’s targeting of Muslim communities, urging the CAR government to hold its security partners accountable and to rethink the destructive implications of Wagner’s continued presence in the country.

His decision comes amid rumors that Washington might designate Wagner Group a terrorist organization as a form of “lawfare” against Moscow in the conflict over Ukraine.

In addition to these groups, the State Department listed Algeria, CAR, Comoros, and Vietnam on a “special watch list” whereas Myanmar, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as “countries of particular concern” for religious freedom.

Notably absent from that list was Ukraine, even though Kyiv troops recently raided the most prominent, historic Orthodox monastery, banned the Moscow Patriarchate-linked canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church in favor of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, and charged several clergymen with sympathies for Russia.

As the US government is required by the law to impose one or more presidential actions against nations that are named as Countries of Particular Concern, nations on that list could face sanctions, unless a waiver is granted, or an exception is made because they are already sanctioned.

This year, after the State Department determined that the important national interest of the United States requires the exercise of such waiver authority, waivers were issued to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

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