The EU will announce sanctions against Russia’s Wagner Group next week in response to the mercenary organisation’s human rights abuses in Ukraine, Syria and Libya.
Western countries believe that the Kremlin uses the group, which the EU says has close financial links with a longtime friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin, to give it deniable leverage in overseas conflicts.
The EU sanctions against Wagner, three related entities and eight individuals will include a ban on travel to the EU and a freeze of any assets held inside the bloc, said a senior EU official who did not want to be named before the decision is formally endorsed by EU foreign ministers on Monday.
They come a little over a year after Brussels imposed sanctions on its alleged backer Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian caterer-turned-warlord nicknamed “Putin’s chef” for his close links to the Kremlin.
The punitive measures will complicate EU ties and financial arrangements with governments engaging with Wagner. Brussels and Paris have threatened to withdraw support for Mali after the country’s government said it was considering hiring the Russian mercenaries to help stem a jihadi insurgency.
“We are now sanctioning the Wagner Group itself, along with . . . three entities and eight individuals connected with it,” the senior EU official said on Friday. The move will be legally based on four separate EU sanctions regimes.
“Wagner is acting in Syria, acting in Libya, in Ukraine [undermining] territorial integrity and . . . these individuals are linked to gross violations of human rights,” said the official.
Ministers will also adopt a sanctions regime relating to Mali, that will be set up to target “people who oppose the transition process or [are] being obstacles to the transition process,” the official added.
Prigozhin denies US allegations that he bankrolls Wagner. The Kremlin says mercenaries are banned under Russian law. Representatives for Prigozhin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Wagner participated in the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the subsequent conflict that erupted in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian troops and Moscow-backed separatists.
Since then, the paramilitary group has been involved in conflicts in Syria, Libya, Mozambique, Sudan and the Central African Republic, operating in line with official Russian foreign policy objectives. Human rights activists have raised the alarm over abuse allegedly perpetrated by Wagner soldiers in the Central African Republic.
Its activities in that country and in Libya and its potential move into Mali have increased pressure on Brussels to attempt to curb its activities, particularly from France, which has deployed troops to help Malian forces stem jihadi groups.
Additional reporting by Max Seddon in Moscow