What the Wagner Group’s “Criminal Organization” Label Means

The Wagner group has been officially considered an international “criminal organization”, at least according to a decision taken Monday by members of the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament.

Private Russian military unit, also known as mercenaries, often fought in their own capacity, separately from the Russian army. The Wagner Group is headed by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The purpose of adopting the resolution is to consolidate the efforts of Ukraine and the international community for the just restoration of peace, to ensure the international legal order in the world and in Ukraine, and the punishment inevitable of all persons guilty of violations of international humanitarian law,” reads the legislative language of the resolution.

The legislation also cites Wagner’s “activities in Ukraine, CAR, Mali, Libya and Syria” and proposes a nationwide strengthening of organizational procedures with respect to the investigation of potentially criminal offenses committed by suspected members of the group. .

Workers put the finishing touches to the ‘PMC Wagner Center’, associated with Russian oligarch and group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, inset, in St. Petersburg October 31, 2022. Ukraine’s parliament on Monday designated the group as a criminal organization and hopes its allies do the same.
OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images; Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

“We are preparing to destroy ‘Wagner’ as a component of international terrorism,” Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, wrote on Telegram. “Today’s recognition of PMK ‘Wagner’ as a terrorist organization…is a step towards bringing them to justice. Ukraine will appeal to the courts of allied states, and in the future this will affect the confiscation of Russian assets.”

Ukrainian officials are also calling on their allies in the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war to make similar proclamations.

The statement includes a call for world parliaments and international organizations to recognize Russian private military companies as terrorist organizations, tweeted Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister.

Oleksandr Korniyenko, first deputy chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, called Wagner “terrorists who kill Ukrainians”.

“We need to raise our voices and call things by their proper names,” he tweeted on Monday. “We urge the world to do the same. #RussiaIsATerroristState”

Maria Popova, associate professor of political science at McGill University, said Newsweek Monday that the statement may now matter more.

“This decision is part of Ukraine’s efforts to defend and convince its Western partners to take the same step, or to propose other measures to neutralize, isolate and weaken Wagner,” Popova said. “In the short term, the impact will be minimal – Wagner is technically illegal even under Russian law – and Russia will continue to use its fighters as part of its invasion force.

She added: “In the medium to long term, however, the more countries label Wagner a terrorist or criminal organization, the clearer its rogue status would be; this would possibly reduce the ability of Wagner members to seek asylum. In Occident. “

Mikhail Alexseev, professor of political science at San Diego State University, said Newsweek Monday that he sees minimal impact on the battlefield resulting from such measures.

This is partly due to the fact that Wagner suffered massive casualties around the Ukrainian towns of Bakhmut and Soledar, and was not as prominent in the intensifying Russian offensive along the front line. Donbass, he added.

However, Alexseev believes the group continues to recruit.

“There may be a closer integration/merger with the regular military, so they may not be prominent, but they will continue to contribute Russian capabilities in old and new ways,” Alexseev said. . “On the other hand, these designations by Ukraine (including the criminal charges against Prigozhin) and the United States are still important in a broader, longer-term and global context. Potentially, they facilitate pressure on / incentivize states that have not imposed sanctions on Russia to join the sanctions or to reduce cooperation.”

That could translate to impacts in Africa and the Middle East, he said, where Wagner operated to prop up dictators, secure access to valuable resources for his own national gain.

Late last month, the Wagner Group was renamed a “significant transnational criminal organization” by the US Treasury. Dozens of the group’s subsidiaries have been subjected to sanctions, which freeze all US assets and prevent Americans from doing business with those sanctioned.

“As sanctions and export controls on Russia by our international coalition continue to weigh, the Kremlin is desperate for arms and support – including through the brutal Wagner Group – to continue its unjust war against the ‘Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. at the time of the declaration.

Is Prigozhin’s impact diminishing?

The impact of Prigozhin, and that of her crew, has been debated.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a US-based think tank, said last month it “overestimated” its importance to the Kremlin and the Russian military operation.

As the Russian military takes on a bigger role in operations around Bakhmut and is less dependent on Wagner’s recruits, the Kremlin will no longer “need to appease Prigozhin”, the ISW said in its assessment.

Newsweek contacted the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin for comment.


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