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4th Dec 2021

MEPs list crimes of 'Kremlin proxy' mercenaries

  • Mali: Authorities reportedly in talks to invite Wagner fighters despite existing presence of French soldiers (Photo: Emilio Labrador)
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MEPs have urged the EU to blacklist members of Russia's mercenary Wagner Group, while listing its crimes in multiple conflict zones.

The EU ought to impose "targeted EU sanctions against the relevant individuals and entities affiliated with the Wagner Group, as well as individuals and entities working with them," they said in a resolution on Thursday (25 November), which passed by a whopping 585 votes against 40.

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Almost all the 40 pro-Wagner MEPs were from the far-right Identity and Democracy Group.

The EU Parliament's recommendation is not binding on member states.

But France and the EU foreign service said last week they were looking at sanctions after the Wagner Group seemed poised to start operations in Mali, where French soldiers are already involved in fighting Islamist cells.

The MEPs also called "on the [EU] Commission to ensure that EU funds cannot under any circumstances be used by recipient countries to fund private military companies with such human rights records".

And they urged the Central Africa Republic (CAR), where Wagner Group already had a large presence, "to cut all ties with the group and its employees".

Thursday's resolution noted that Wagner Group, which has some 10,000 personnel, has been "involved in conflicts" in Syria, Sudan, Mozambique, Libya, the Central African Republic, Venezuela, and Ukraine.

It noted that the Kremlin was trying to use the group's shadowy legal status "to maintain plausible deniability regarding the actions and crimes committed by the group".

But it voiced "firm conviction that the Wagner Group ... should be treated as a proxy organisation of the Russian state" and as part of "Russia's modern hybrid warfare".

"The Wagner Group allegedly relies on Russian military infrastructure, shares a base with the Russian military, is transported by Russian military aircraft and uses military healthcare services ... it is financed in part through multimillion-dollar catering and construction contracts for the Russian armed forces awarded to companies linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin," the MEPs said.

"Russia's military intelligence agency GRU, its ministry of defence, and its consular services are fully involved in the funding, recruitment, training, and protection of Wagner operatives," they added.

They also listed "the gross human rights violations which have been documented [by the UN] and of which it has been accused" in recent times.

In CAR, this included "mass summary executions, arbitrary detentions, sexual violence, looting, enforced disappearances, and torture during interrogations" in its efforts to secure income from the country's natural resources.

In Libya, Wagner Group was "involved in war crimes, including summary executions of civilians and detainees, enslavement, the planting of internationally banned anti-personnel landmines, and the killing or maiming of civilians including children, for example in the al-Sbeaa village south of Tripoli".

Wagner "mercenaries have committed and filmed gruesome crimes against the Syrian population, such as torturing, murdering, and beheading civilians near Palmyra", the MEPs added.

And three Russian journalists were "murdered" in 2018 while trying to investigate its activities, they said.

The EU also has military and civilian training missions in CAR, Libya, Mali, and Ukraine.

But "EU missions and operations cannot properly deliver and achieve peace, security, and stability in partner countries when private security companies accused of gross human rights violations are operating simultaneously in the same country", the MEPs warned.

Meanwhile, EU states already blacklisted Prigozhin last year for Wagner's "deliv­ery of arms as well as deployment of mercen­aries into Libya".

The 60-year old from St Petersburg was "a Russian businessman with close links, including financially, to the private military company Wagner Group", who was "engaged in and pro­viding support for Wagner Group's activities", the EU sanctions note said.

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