Thursday

19th May 2022

EU sanctions shed light on Kremlin mercenaries

  • Wagner Group chief personally ordered torture and murder in Syria, the EU said (Photo: Reuters/Omar Sanadiki)
Listen to article

The EU has blacklisted Russia's mercenary Wagner Group, shedding new light on the activities of the Kremlin-linked fighters.

It sanctioned the group itself and eight of its commanders as well as three companies linked to its financing.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"The Wagner Group is a Russia-based unincorporated private military entity, which was established in 2014 as a successor organisation of the Slavonic Corps [another private security group]," the sanctions notice in the EU's Official Journal said on Monday (13 December).

And it was "responsible for serious human rights abuses in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan, and Mozambique, which include torture and extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions," the EU said.

The eight Wagner commanders added to the EU visa-ban and asset-freeze register were: Dimitriy Utkin, Stanislav Dychko, Valery Zakharov, Denis Kharitonov, Sergei Scherbakov, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Andrey Troshev, and Andrey Bogatov.

The three firms were Evro Polis, Mercury, and Velada, involved in Syria's mining, oil, and gas business.

Utkin, whom the EU listed for fighting on Russia's side in east Ukraine and Syria and for human rights abuses, was a former Russian special-forces lieutenant colonel who was the "founder and commander of the Wagner Group" and who had "personally ordered the torturing to death of ... [a Syrian army] deserter as well as the filming of the act" in 2017, it said.

Russian diplomats claim not to know what Wagner Group is.

But all eight sanctioned individuals were Russians and several of them came from Russian security services, the EU noted.

Utkin was linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-friendly oligarch, through their Concord group of companies, the EU said.

The mercenaries also had access to high-end weapons and one of them, Scherbakov, was said to have boasted of shooting down two Ukrainian aircraft and a helicopter using surface-to-air missiles, after which he was awarded the Russian Federation's Order of Merit for the Fatherland.

And all of Wagner's blacklisted Syria companies were domiciled in Russia.

The EU showed detailed knowledge of Wagner Group, which is said to command thousands of fighters from eastern Europe and Africa, by publishing its eight commanders' military call-signs and naming Wagner structures, such as its '1st Attack and Reconnaissance Company'.

An internal EU document recently said Wagner Group and Russia had worked hand-in-hand in CAR to seize control of the country.

And Monday's EU sanctions come amid Western fears they were now doing the same in Mali.

Russia's EU ambassador recently confirmed Wagner Group had signed a contract with Mali's authorities.

By some reports seen by EUobserver, Wagner had more than 2,000 fighters there already.

And "the Sahel [region] is ... the scene of competitive political interests, notably between the EU and other actors such as Russia," the EU foreign service said in another internal memo.

"The aim of today's [sanctions] decision is to curtail the subversive activities of the Wagner Group," the EU noted in a statement on Monday.

"It signals the EU's strong determination to stand up for its interests and values in its neighbourhood and beyond," it said.

Wider concern

The sanctions, agreed by foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, also come amid concern Russia was preparing to invade Ukraine a second time.

And they come amid spreading jihadist violence in the Sahel, Libya, and Nigeria as well as civil wars in CAR, Ethiopia, and Syria.

"Any aggression against Ukraine will come with political consequences and with a high economic cost for Russia," the EU's foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, said, after ministers' talks on potential new gas and banking-sector sanctions.

"We are in deterrent mode," he added.

Borrell had earlier threatened to also blacklist Ethiopians who obstructed international aid workers.

But he said on Monday he had been unable to muster all 27 member states to agree.

Ethiopia was "one of my biggest frustrations [this year]", he told press, "because we were not able to react properly to the large-scale human rights violations, mass rapes using sexual violence as a weapon of war, killings, and concentration camps based on ethnic belonging", Borrell said.

EU plans to jointly invest in defence capabilities

EU countries need to refill stockpiles after several member states supplied weapons to Ukraine in its fight with Russia, and to phase out existing Soviet-era weapons systems, and reinforce air defence.

UK and EU edge closer to trade war over Northern Ireland

The EU warning comes after the UK government escalated the conflict over the Northern Ireland protocol — a set of post-Brexit trade rules — by saying it will unilaterally pass a law to change the EU-UK trade treaty.

Opinion

Will 'Putin's Nato' follow Warsaw Pact into obscurity?

Valdimir Putin's equivalent to Nato — the Collective Security Treaty Organization of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Belarus — is convening in Moscow next week to give cover that Russia is not alone in its war against Ukraine.

Opinion

Is EU 'Horizon' science funding going towards Pegasus spyware?

MEPs have raised questions about the involvement of the EU — through its funding — in the development of the Israeli NSO Pegasus software, directly or indirectly, which has been used to target activists and journalists in Europe.

News in Brief

  1. Finland expects cut in gas supply after Nato application
  2. Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands push offshore wind
  3. Turkey strong-arms Finland and Sweden on extraditions
  4. Sharp increase in irregular migration to EU
  5. Russia ejects 85 European diplomats
  6. Germany shuts ex-chancellor Schröder's office over Putin ties
  7. Russia soldier pleads guilty to Ukraine war crime
  8. EU to protect Finland and Sweden until they join Nato

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. Nordic Bridges unveil latest highlights of Spring programme
  2. EU plans to jointly invest in defence capabilities
  3. EU and US keen to seize Russian funds for Ukraine
  4. EU to boost solar and renewables rollout to cut Russian gas
  5. Commission grilled on RePowerEU €210bn pricetag
  6. Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine - the case for granting EU candidacy
  7. Watchdog calls for tougher curbs on 'problematic' revolving doors
  8. Borrell: EU arms flow to Ukraine amid 'record' Russian losses

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us