The United States has designated the Russian paramilitary Wagner group as a transnational criminal organisation, US national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday.
"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 organisation 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.
Declaring Wagner a transnational criminal organisation freezes any U.S. assets the group has and prohibits Americans from providing it with funds, goods, or services.
Kirby said the US believes the group has deployed about 50,000 people in Ukraine, including 10,000 mercenaries and 40,000 prisoners, so much so that the Russian Defence Ministry has ‘reservations’ about its recruitment methods.
Kirby intimated that Washington would take further sanctions against the group.
He also pointed to satellite images showing Russian trains travelling to North Korea to buy equipment for the mercenary army.
The Wagner group, which is led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, is very active in the battle raging for the control of Bakhut in eastern Ukraine.