The United States of America (USA) has imposed sanctions on entities in the Central African Republic (CAR) for their connection to the Wagner Group which Washington described as a “transnational criminal organization”.
The move follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s revelation that Russia has been funding the Wagner Group. Putin at a meeting with military personnel of the Defence Ministry yesterday stated that all of the funding the Wagner Group received came from the state. He said that the Wagner Group “got all its funding from us, from the Defence Ministry, from the state budget”.
Since the West, and particularly the USA accuses the Wagner Group of causing “death and destruction” wherever it has its presence follows in their wake, and imposed sanctions on the Group in Africa, the question being raised is will the USA now move on to declare Russia a terrorist state after Putin’s admission of directly funding the Group?
The Russian President, who is also the Supreme Commander of Russia’s military, went on to offer details that between May 2022 and May 2023 alone, the Wagner Group received 86,262 million rubles from the state to pay military salaries and bonuses, including 70,384 million rubles for payroll and 15,877 million rubles for paying out bonuses. Insurance premiums totalled 110,179 million.
Putin mentioned that while the state covered all of the Wagner Group’s funding needs, the company’s owner, Concord, received from the state 80 billion rubles through Voentorg as the army’s food and canteen provider. The state covered all its funding needs. Post the failed mutiny by the Wagner Group, Russia is now also looking into whether anything from these funds was stolen in the process.
On the other hand, while designating the entities along with the Wagner Group, the USA accused them of involving in activities “that undermine democratic processes and institutions in the CAR through illicit trade in the country’s natural resources”. The US also designated one Russian national who served as a Wagner executive in Mali. It further claimed Wagner used its operations in Mali both to obtain revenue for the group and its owner, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, as well as to procure weapons and equipment to further its involvement in hostilities in Ukraine. The United States also issued a new business risk advisory focused on the gold industry across sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, this advisory highlights how illicit actors like Wagner exploit this resource to gain revenue and sow conflict, corruption, and other harms throughout the region.
“Death and destruction have followed in Wagner’s wake everywhere it has operated, and the United States will continue to take actions to hold it accountable,” the US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken stated.
What is significant is that despite sanctioning Wagner in SAR, Washington is yet to brand it a “terrorist” group. At the same time, Canada designated the Group as a terrorist entity in January this year. After that, the French National Assembly voted unanimously in May 2023 to designate the Wagner group as a terrorist entity.
So why cannot the USA brand the Wagner Group as a terrorist organisation and consequently brand Russia as a terrorist state for financing the outfit? The question arises that what is holding Washington back, after Washington’s assertions that since Prigozhin is under indictment in the United States, it would like to see him standing trial in the US for the crimes that he is alleged to have committed.
“I don’t think the label is as important as the actions we take, and we have taken actions to hold Wagner accountable and will continue to do so,” Miller said, avoiding any direct reference to Russia. However, its strategy now is to use the pretext to weaponize Ukraine to repel Russian troops, whether they be Ministry of Defense troops or Wagner forces.
“And just as you will see actions from us in the very near future to hold Wagner accountable, you will see continued actions from us in the very near future to continue to supply the Ukrainian military with the equipment, the military equipment that it needs, to press their case on the battlefield,” Miller said.
It is in this context, that the US announcement of its 41st drawdown for Ukraine needs to be seen – to support Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive operations with equipment directly tailored to Ukraine’s needs on the battlefield today. Secretary Blinken made it clear that this round of additional security assistance of $500 million includes essential resources “to bolster Ukraine’s forces’ battlefield survivability, help them retake Ukraine’s sovereign territory, and defend their fellow citizens”.
In the wake of such developments, one thing seems certain – a fierce counteroffensive by Ukraine against Russia, and a dangerous Russian retaliation. With the Wagner Group chief Prigozhin surfacing in Belarus, it is a sort of antithesis for the Americans as they don’t have any extradition treaty with Minsk. Till yesterday, the USA had refused to make any assessment about his location and was not sure whether Prigozhin, despite being a “leader of Russian forces that have engaged on the battlefield”, still continued as a Russian official.
With Prigozhin, who fears assassination, ensconced in a friendly country, Putin’s worries may ease. This apparently made the US react by describing Prigozhin as a “destabilizing agent”, and stating that the decision by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka to welcome the Wagner Group chief to his country “does show that he (Lukashenka) continues to take steps not in the interest of his own people but in the interest of the Kremlin”.