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Wagner Group: US to designate group of Russian mercenaries as ‘transnational criminal organization’



CNN

The US Treasury Department 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 announced on Friday.

“These actions recognize the transcontinental threat Wagner poses, including through his ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told reporters on Friday ahead of the department’s announcement. of the Treasury.

Along with the new sanctions, the United States released recently declassified photos of Russian train cars traveling from Russia to North Korea and back in November, in what the United States believes was the initial delivery of rockets and missiles. infantry for use by the Wagner Group mercenary organization in Ukraine.

In this aerial graphic provided by the US government, Russian train cars are seen traveling between Russia and North Korea.

Kirby said that while the United States does not believe the equipment has changed the dynamics of the battlefield in Ukraine, the United States expects these types of weapon system deliveries from Korea. from the North to Russia continues. Russia also received equipment, including drones, from Iran as its military supplies dwindled during the war.

“Arms transfers from [North Korea] are in direct violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution,” Kirby said, adding that the United States had shared its intelligence with the Panel of Experts of the DPRK Security Council Sanctions Committee.

A senior Western intelligence official echoed that assessment on Friday, telling reporters that the West is “certainly concerned that North Korea is considering expanding and delivering more military equipment or maintaining those deliveries. “.

More broadly, the United States believes tensions between the Russian Defense Ministry and Wagner are rising as Russian President Vladimir Putin increasingly relies on Wagner to conduct operations in Ukraine. According to Kirby, around 50,000 Wagner Group fighters are currently deployed in Ukraine, 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 United States has intelligence suggesting the Russian Defense Ministry “has reservations” about the massive recruitment of Wagner in Russian prisons.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, has complained that the Russian Defense Ministry has botched 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 had lost thousands of fighters in Ukraine in the past two months alone, mostly in its operations around Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. But they have also proven more effective than the Russian military in some areas, Pentagon officials said.

Tensions between Kremlin defense officials and Wagner Group leaders have also risen amid public complaints from mercenaries that they lack equipment and report that their leader, Prigozhin, wants to take control of the lucrative salt mines. near Bakhmut.

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

The United States believes that Prigozhin’s open challenge to the Russian Defense Ministry is an attempt to generate positive publicity for himself.

“Prigozhin is trying to advance his own interests in Ukraine,” Kirby said Friday. “And Wagner makes military decisions based largely on what will generate positive publicity for Prigozhin.”

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