In an unprecedented move sanctioned by the United Kingdom Parliament, assets of the Wagner group will be classified as terrorist property, granting authorities the power to seize them. This decision emerged in lieu of the violence and destruction perpetuated by Wagner, an entity deemed as a military tool whose activities are under the direct influence of Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin.
The actions engaged by Wagner, especially within the territories of Ukraine and Africa, have been condemned widely as threats to global peace and security. Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, provided an incisive remark as she highlighted the group’s role in destabilizing international borders to lend aid to the Kremlin’s political agenda. She unequivocally declared them as terrorists, and the proscription order officially recognizes them as such in the UK legalities.
A significant contributor to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Wagner group, also operates strategically in Syria and various African countries, including Libya and Mali. The group’s alleged crimes range from killings to torturing Ukrainian citizens, stirring international condemnation. In 2020, the United States reported that Wagner operatives were responsible for planting landmines in and around Libya’s capital, Tripoli. Earlier this year, the UK condemned the group’s involvement in brutal executions and torturing in Mali and the Central African Republic.
However, the stability of the group was dealt a severe blow when its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, led a failed uprising against Russia’s military leaders. Tragedy then befell the group when Prigozhin, who established the group in 2014, perished in an enigmatic plane crash on 23rd August, along with other determinative figures within Wagner, and was later interred in St Petersburg.
The Wagner Group will now join the ranks of other banned entities in the UK, including Boko Haram and Hamas. The said arrangement was possible due to the Terrorism Act of 2000, allowing the Home Secretary to outlaw an organisation if believed to be involved with terrorist activities. Prior to this act, proscription could only be implemented upon organisations related to terrorism in Northern Ireland.
This order also makes activities such as organising meetings in support of Wagner, expressing admiration for its goals, or showcasing its emblems or logos, criminal offences. Violation of this proscription could result in a financial penalty of up to £5,000 or a prison sentence of 14 years. The British government was urged to criminalise the group further for its involvement in severe human rights abuses in Ukraine and globally.
The move was whole-heartedly welcomed by Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, who further urged the uk government to advocate a Special Tribunal that would bring charges against Putin for his alleged crimes of aggression. The Foreign Office has already implemented sanctions against the group, including freezing the assets of Prigozhin and several top commanders. Alicia Kearns, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, had previously stated that proscribing the group was not adequate, pushing for the Wagner group to be legally classified as a ‘terrorist organisation’.
However, after its inability to take down Russia’s generals and the fatality of its primary leaders in a recent plane crash, the Wagner Group is considerably weakened. Still, the official proscription will complicate transactions, making it especially problematic for members to transfer funds. In addition, it will pave the path to potential legal actions against Wagner, allowing victims to demand compensation through the British courts.