British government officially designates Wagner as a terrorist organization
By Matt Murphy, BBC Reporter
The British government has officially classified the Russian mercenary group Wagner as a terrorist organization. The move, announced just weeks after the death of its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, makes it illegal to be a member of Wagner or support the group in the UK. Those aiding the paramilitary group could face heavy fines and prison sentences of up to 14 years. Home Secretary Suella Braverman characterized Wagner as “a threat to global security.”
Under the new order, it is now an offense to support the group, including organizing meetings to promote its activities, expressing support for it, and displaying its flag or logo. Anyone found guilty of supporting Wagner could face a prison sentence or a fine. Wagner will be added to the UK’s list of 78 other banned groups, which includes organizations such as Hamas and Boko Haram.
Founded by Prigozhin around 2014, the Wagner Paramilitary Organization quickly became instrumental in Putin’s manipulation of state power in Russia. With activities in countries like Syria, Libya, Mali, and the Central African Republic, the group supported Putin’s allies and fought on the front lines in conflicts like the invasion of Ukraine. However, following the recent failed rebellion against Russian military leaders initiated by Prigozhin, Wagner’s future became uncertain.
Despite the loss of its leader, Wagner continues to operate autonomously, particularly in Africa, where it solves problems for local authorities and protects regimes and their property. Russia has also reportedly established several new private military companies, each with varying degrees of loyalty to oligarchs, businesses, and politicians. It remains to be seen whether Wagner will comply with the Russian government’s order to leave Syria by the end of September or join the Russian army operating there.
Analysts argue that the British government’s legislation to ban Wagner comes too late, as the Kremlin has already been dismantling the group’s power. While it may no longer have the same influence it had under Prigozhin’s leadership, Wagner can still engage in covert sabotage and cyber operations, functioning as an extended arm of Kremlin policy in volatile regions. Despite these challenges, the UK’s move to label Wagner as a terrorist organization is a welcomed step to combat its involvement in war, destabilization, and violence.
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Under this statute, it is an offense to support the Wagner organization, which includes expressing support for Wagner and displaying his flag or emblem.
Britain has officially classified the Russian mercenary group Wagner as a terrorist organisation, a move announced just weeks after the death of its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The decree, approved by the government on Friday (September 15), also means it will be illegal to be a member of Wagner or support the group in the UK. Those aiding the paramilitary group could face heavy fines and prison sentences of up to 14 years. Announcing the order, Home Secretary Suella Braverman characterized Wagner as “a threat to global security”.
The minister said: “Wagner’s continuous sabotage only promotes the Kremlin’s political goals. They are terrorists, there is no doubt about it. The ban announced by the UK makes this clear.”
On August 23 this year, Prigoghin and the other members of Wagner died in a suspicious plane crash.
Under the order, it is an offense to support the group, which includes organizing meetings to promote its activities, expressing support for it and displaying its flag or logo.
Those supporting Wagner face up to 14 years in prison or a fine if convicted. Wagner will now be added to the UK’s list of 78 other banned groups, which includes groups such as Hamas and Boko Haram.
The Wagner Paramilitary Organization was founded by Prigozhin around 2014. The group quickly became a key lieutenant in Putin’s manipulation of state power in Russia. The group helps support Putin’s allies in countries such as Syria, Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic.
His soldiers fought on the front line after Russia invaded Ukraine, and these mercenaries took a large part in the campaign in Ukraine. They helped Russia achieve some rare victories in cities like Soledar and Bakhmut.
However, after the recent failed rebellion against the Russian military leaders initiated by Prigokin, Wagner’s future became uncertain.
On August 23 this year, Prigoghin died in a “suspicious” plane crash along with other members of Wagner. He was buried in St Petersburg. Last week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that the investigation into the crash was progressing slowly, saying: “This is not a simple investigation or an ordinary accident.”
Indeed, in recent months, senior British MPs have been calling on the government to designate Wagner as a terrorist organisation.
Recently, the Senate Foreign Affairs Electoral Committee released a report criticizing the British government’s “overconfidence” in the group and its “extreme lack of understanding of Wagner’s influence outside of Europe, especially in African countries.”
Prigozhin, former head of the Wagner Group
But the new ban may come too late to have an effect.
Last month, experts told the BBC that one of Wagner’s rivals, a private military company, was trying to take over in the absence of Prigogkin’s leadership.
Last week, Alicia Kearns, chair of the Foreign Affairs Electoral Commission, urged the government to “take a more strategic approach to private military companies operating in all conflict zones.”
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, accused the government of moving too slowly and “failing to keep pace with changing threats to our national security.”
Anton Mardasov, a scholar of Syrian planning at the Middle East Institute, told the BBC that despite the loss of Prigogin, Wagner still managed to “maintain some autonomy for now”, especially when deployed in Africa. “Let’s put it this way, Wagner survives and thrives because it solves problems for local authorities in the countries where it operates and protects the regime and their property. Al-Qaeda and other militant groups are still active there, their presence and the threat they posed helped Wagner.”
In recent months, however, Russia has reportedly set up dozens of new private military companies, each with varying degrees of loyalty to oligarchs, businesses and politicians.
According to Arab media reports, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov has ordered Wagner to leave Syria by the end of September this year or join the Russian army operating there. “The situation is very explosive and there is no concrete answer yet,” said Mardasov.
Analysis: Legislation too slow to come?
Frank Gardner BBC security correspondent
The opinion of the majority is that the legislation comes too late.
While British government lawyers were working out the details of the legal provisions in preparation for the ban announced by the Home Office on September 5, the Kremlin was already busy dismantling Wagner’s power.
Putin no longer dares to risk having such an armed paramilitary group challenge his authority and that of his generals. Today, although still potentially dangerous, Wagner no longer has the influence he had in the days of his former leader, Prigogine.
Most analysts now expect the Corps to come more closely under the control of Russia’s military intelligence unit (GRU) and spend more time engaging in “grey zone” operations such as covert sabotage and cyber operations, they often deny these things.
But as an extended arm of Kremlin policy in volatile regions like Mali and Libya, Wagner – or whatever it will be reshaped in the future – still has the ability to make money from war, destabilization and violence. Therefore, the UK’s move to ban it as a terrorist organization is largely to be welcomed.
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