On Monday, December 13th, the European Union (EU) imposed sanctions on the Wagner Group, a private Russian military contractor. The EU also placed sanctions upon eight individuals and three energy companies in Syria that were connected to the group and were suspected of operating on the Kremlin’s behalf.
These sanctions include asset freezes and travel bans, which are “designed to limit any governments from working with the Wagner Group,” according to Reuters, however, “are unlikely to have any big impact in Moscow.” Russian President Vladimir Putin denies any wrongdoing and has stated that private military contractors have the right to pursue their interests in the world so long as they are not breaking any Russian laws. Diplomats said this marked a “further hardening of EU foreign policy towards Russia.”
The EU said in its official journal that “the Wagner Group is responsible for serious human rights abuses in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Mozambique.” According to the press release by the Council of the EU, eight individuals are “involved in serious human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings, or in destabilizing activities in some of the countries they operate in.” More specifically, the EU has blacklisted former Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer, Dimitriy Utkin, saying he was the “founder of the Wagner Group and responsible for coordinating and planning operation for the deployment of Wagner Group mercenaries in Ukraine,” according to Al Jazeera.
France has been one of the most outspoken member states of the EU, pressing the other EU partners to act, arguing that “Wagner’s inroad into Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic have had a destabilizing effect,” according to France 24. Furthermore, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called them a “company of Russian mercenaries which makes war by proxy on Russian account…even if Russia denies it, nobody is fooled.”
The Moscow Times stated that European ministers were also “discussing a much larger package of potential economic sanctions against Russia, to be held in reserve to deter any threat from Moscow to directly invade Ukraine.” Given the tensions between Russia and Ukraine currently, the EU sanction plans may be a much-needed safeguard to try to prevent further escalation or a potential invasion. However, sanctions specifically placed on the Wagner Group, as previously mentioned, are unlikely to have any clear effect on the actions of its members or the Russian government. While the sanctions may be largely symbolic, the international community needs to continue to call out human rights abuses that are carried out by both individuals and organizations and hold them accountable for their actions.
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