What is the current status? The infamous private army of “Putin’s cook” Yevgeny Prigozhin, also known as the Wagner Group, could soon find itself on the United States’ list of international criminal organizations. The Wagner Group is notorious for its brutal behaviour in the Middle East, in some African countries, including Mali, where Czech peacekeepers have been operating, and especially in Ukraine. In very many cases, the ‘soldiers’ of the Wagner group are accused of violating basic human rights against the civilian population, as well as of violating the norms of the international law of war.
In the words of John Kirby, the Strategic Communications Coordinator of the US National Security Council, there are now approximately 50 000 000 members of this private military group operating in Ukraine. Only one-fifth of them are ‘professional soldiers’ with contracts, while the remaining 40,000 have been recruited in Russian prisons. Most of these ‘soldiers’ are fighting in the eastern part of Ukraine, where they are involved in the attempt to take control of the town of Bakhmut, as well as being involved in the fighting for the town of Soledar.
What are the consequences of the declaration? The declaration of the Wagner Group as an international criminal organisation carries with it a number of consequences, as regulated in Executive Order 13581. Among other things, it freezes the assets of the organisation and its members in the United States. It also prohibits the acquisition of property and the facilitation of the circumvention of such prohibition. It also prohibits, among other things, the provision of funding and donations to such an organisation or the provision of services to such a company.
Although it is not yet clear how much of an impact such a declaration will have on the operation of the Wagner Group, there are a number of other tools that the United States could use to really make a significant intervention in the operation of the organisation. One of these is the designation of Prigozhin’s private army as a terrorist organization under AEDPA. According to the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT), the designation of the Wagner group as a terrorist group would be possible because of the acts of which its members are accused (gross violations of the norms of international law).
The European Parliament called on the Council of the European Union to take a similar step in its resolution of November last year, in which it declared Russia to be a state sponsor of terrorism for acts committed not only in Ukraine.
How to proceed? The Czech Government should take the necessary action and advocate at the level of the Council of the European Union for the inclusion of the Wagner Group on the EU list of terrorist organisations. We do not consider the sanctions regime currently applied to Prigozhin’s private army and its prominent members to be sufficiently effective, as we have not seen any fundamental change in their behaviour. On the contrary, the inclusion of this group on the terrorist list will enable the Union and individual Member States to better combat the influence of this de facto terrorist organisation both in the EU and in third countries.