US designates Russian mercenary group Wagner as “transnational criminal organization”

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The United States Department of the Treasury will designate the Russian mercenary organization wagner group as a “transnational criminal organization” and will impose additional sanctions next week against the group and its support network around the world, the White House said Friday.

“These actions recognize the transcontinental threat that Wagner poses, including through his continuing pattern of serious criminal activity,” said National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, John Kirby told reporters ahead of the announcement.

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Alongside the new sanctions, the US released previously classified photos of Russian railcars traveling from Russia to North Korea and back in November in what it believes to be the initial delivery of rockets and infantry missiles for use by the Wagner Group mercenary organization. in Ukraine.

Kirby said that while the country does not believe the equipment has changed the battlefield dynamics in Ukraine, they do expect this type of delivery of weapons systems from North Korea to Russia to continue.

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Russia has also been receiving equipment, including drones, from Iran as its military supplies dwindled over the course of the war.

“Weapon transfers from [Coreia do Norte] directly violate the United Nations Security Council resolution,” Kirby said, adding that the US shared its intelligence with the Security Council’s DPRK sanctions committee panel of experts.

A senior Western intelligence official echoed that assessment, telling reporters that the West is “certainly concerned that North Korea plans to expand and deliver more military equipment or maintain those deliveries.”

Tensions between Russian military and mercenary group

More broadly, the US assesses that tensions between the Russian Defense Ministry and Wagner are rising as Russian President Vladimir Putin increasingly relies on Wagner for operations in Ukraine.

There are around 50,000 Wagner Group fighters currently deployed in Ukraine, according to Kirby, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts.

“Wagner is becoming a rival power center for the Russian military and other Russian ministries,” Kirby said, and the US has intelligence suggesting that the Russian Ministry of Defense “has reservations” about Wagner’s heavy recruitment into Russian prisons.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, complained that the Russian Ministry of Defense had spoiled the war effort and that Wagner fighters should be given more equipment, authority and autonomy to carry out operations in Ukraine.

A senior US official told CNN last month that the Wagner Group has lost thousands of fighters in Ukraine in just the past two months, mostly in its operations in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine.

But they also proved more effective than the Russian military in some areas, Pentagon officials said.

Tensions between Kremlin defense officials and Wagner Group leaders also rose amid public complaints by the mercenaries that they are running out of equipment and reports that their leader, Prigozhin, wants to take control of the lucrative salt mines nearby. from Bakhmut.

In a video broadcast on Russian state media, Wagner Group fighters complain that they are running out of combat vehicles, artillery shells and ammunition, which is limiting their ability to conquer Bakhmut – a shortage that Prigozhin then attributes to “internal bureaucracy and corruption”.

The US believes that Prigozhin’s open defiance of the Russian Ministry of Defense is an attempt to generate positive publicity for himself.

“Prigozhin is trying to advance his own interests in Ukraine,” said Kirby

“And Wagner is making military decisions based primarily on what will generate positive publicity for Prigozhin.”

Source: CNN Brasil

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