The United States has designated a private Russian military company as a “significant transnational criminal organization,” amid increasing tensions between Washington and Moscow over the Ukraine conflict.
The US Treasury Department blacklisted the Wagner Group on Thursday as it unveiled a new batch of sanctions against Russia.
The Treasury accused the company of being engaged in “an ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity” in both Ukraine, where it is fighting with Russian troops and several African nations.
The Wagner Group poses a “transcontinental threat,” the Treasury statement read, adding that the company, which was founded by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, “has been involved in Kremlin-backed combat operations around the world.”
The Treasury also alleged that the company had “also meddled and destabilized countries in Africa” such as the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali.
The United States has already added its name to a list that also features the Daesh and al-Qaeda Takfiri terrorist outfits.
The list includes such Takfiri terrorist entities as Daesh’s splinter groups in Africa, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabab in Somalia, and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in Syria.
Washington says such designations are allowable under its Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The law targets countries and entities that are deemed to violate religious freedom on a systematic and ongoing basis.
Apart from the Wagner Group, the Treasury also imposed sanctions on eleven other entities and six individuals, including those it suspects of supporting the company’s operations.
Russia launched a military campaign in Ukraine in February last year, saying it launched the operation in order to defend the pro-Russian population in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk against persecution by Kiev.
Since the onset of the conflict between the two countries, the United States and its European allies have unleashed an array of unprecedented sanctions against Russia and poured numerous batches of advanced weapons into Ukraine to help its military fight the Russian troops, despite repeated warnings by the Kremlin that such measures will only prolong the war.
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has said that Russia was “forced” to launch its military campaign in Ukraine to defend itself against the enemy’s “preparation of aggression.”
Medvedev said that the “special military operation” launched by Russia in Ukraine almost a year ago was Moscow’s “last-resort response to preparations for aggression by the US and its satellites.”
He said the world came “really close to the “threat of World War III” as a result of the US-led NATO expansionist policy.