The US Department of Commerce plans to designate the Russian private military company Wagner as a ‘military end user’, potentially restricting the group’s access to equipment anywhere in the world.
Founded in 2014 by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner – a paramilitary group with known ties to the Russian state – has mainly operated as a security contractor in Africa and the Middle East and, more recently, has taken part in battles against the Ukrainian military in the Donbas.
The department, which said that further sanctions against Wagner would be announced in the coming weeks, wants to ensure that the group – that the Undersecretary for Industry and Security Alan Estevez called one of the most notorious mercenary organizations in the world – can’t access any technology made with American equipment.
Its move falls short of the rumored designation – advocated by some outspoken Democrats in Washington since this summer – of Wagner as a “terrorist” entity.
Though to no avail, Wager has been under US sanctions since 2017. After labeling the group as part of the Russian defense sector in November, the State Department designated it earlier this month an “entity of particular concern”, putting it in the same category as terrorist Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban.
The announcement comes in light of the increased concerns by the White House that Moscow is increasingly turning to the mercenary group for military support with the downgraded information shared by national security spokesman John Kirby showing that Wagner currently has 50,000 personnel deployed to Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts from Russian prisons.
Kirby noted that – experiencing challenges in recruiting other Russians – Prigozhin and other company officials have been recruiting convicts, some of which have serious medical conditions, from prisons to fight on the front lines.
It is said that Prigozhin’s private army is fighting alongside Russian forces and that he is reportedly spending over $100 million a month to fund Wagner’s operations inside Ukraine.
According to the latest data by the Biden administration, the Russian mercenary group buys arms from North Korea and could continue to buy military equipment to support Moscow’s war against Ukraine.
Kirby said that last month, North Korea delivered infantry rockets and missiles into Russia for use by Wagner.