US to designate Russia’s Wagner mercenary group as ‘transnational criminal organization’

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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 across the world, the White House said on Friday.

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

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

In this aerial graphic provided by the US Government, Russian railcars are seen traveling between Russia and North Korea.

Kirby said that while the US does not believe the equipment has changed the battlefield dynamics in Ukraine, the US expects those kinds of weapons systems deliveries from North Korea to Russia to continue.

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

“The arms transfers from [North Korea] are in direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolution,” Kirby said, adding that the US has shared its intelligence with the Security Council’s DPRK sanctions committee panel of experts.

A senior western intelligence official echoed that assessment on Friday, telling reporters that the West is “certainly concerned that North Korea might plan to expand and deliver more military equipment or to sustain those deliveries.”

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

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

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