The Wagner Group, a Russian private military corporation that U.S. officials claim has been assisting Russia’s military in the Ukraine war, will face new penalties from the United States starting next week, the White House announced on Friday.
The U.S. Treasury Department will identify Wagner as a substantial Transnational Criminal Organization, according to White House national security spokesman John Kirby.
“We will also implement additional sanctions against Wagner and its support network across several countries next week in conjunction with this designation. The intercontinental threat Wagner poses, particularly its persistent pattern of significant criminal conduct, is acknowledged by these measures “During the daily White House briefing, Kirby informed reporters.
Declaring Wagner a Transnational Criminal Organization under U.S. executive order 13581 freezes any U.S. assets of Wagner and prohibits Americans from providing funds, goods, or services to the group.
“With these actions, and more to come, our message to any company that is considering providing support to Wagner is this: Wagner is a criminal organization that is committing widespread atrocities and human rights abuses, and we will work relentlessly to identify, disrupt, expose, and target those assisting Wagner,” Kirby said.
The White House announced last month that the Wagner Group had received an arms supply from North Korea to support Russian forces in Ukraine, indicating the group’s growing involvement in that conflict.
The report was dismissed as unfounded by North Korea’s foreign ministry, which also accused the United States of arming Ukraine with deadly weaponry. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of Wagner, this month denied receiving weapons from North Korea and called the report “gossip and speculation.”
The White House on Friday made public an image dated Nov. 18 that it said showed Russian rail cars traveling between Russia and North Korea.
Kirby said North Korea delivered infantry rockets and missiles into Russia for use by Wagner and that the imagery showed five Russian railcars that traveled from Russia to North Korea. “On November 19, North Korea loaded the railcars with shipping containers, and the train returned to Russia,” he said.
“While we assess that the amount of material delivered to Wagner has not changed battlefield dynamics in Ukraine, we expect that it will continue to receive North Korean weapons systems,” he said.
Kirby said Russian President Vladimir Putin has been increasingly turning to Wagner for military support, causing some tensions in Moscow.
“We are seeing indications, including in intelligence, that tensions between Wagner and the Russian Defense Ministry are increasing,” he said. “Wagner is becoming a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries.”
He said the United States assesses that Wagner currently has about 50,000 personnel deployed to Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts recruited from Russian prisons.
“Our information indicates the Russian Defense Ministry has reservations about Wagner’s recruitment methods. Despite this, we assess that it is likely that Wagner will continue to recruit Russian prisoners,” he said.
The Wagner Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Kirby’s remarks.