February 22, 2023 — New York
On the anniversary of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, American Jewish Committee (AJC) is urging Congress to pass legislation designating the Wagner Group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). A private military company with ties to Russian white supremacist and neo-Nazi far-right extremists, the Wagner Group has a long record of committing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine and in African countries.
The bipartisan Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries (HARM) Act (S.416/H.R. 506), requiring the Secretary of State to designate the Wagner Group as an FTO, was introduced by Representatives Steve Cohen, Joe Wilson, Marc Veasey, Richard Hudson, Ted Lieu, Brian Fitzpatrick, Ruben Gallego, María Elvira Salazar, and Marcy Kaptur.
“What makes the infamous Wagner Group so dangerous is that its use of violence is not simply incidental to its pursuit of profit, but deliberate, and undertaken to instill terror in and exert control over people in the places where it operates as well as to advance the Russian government’s political and economic objectives,” said AJC Chief Policy and Political Officer Jason Isaacson. “S.416 and H.R. 506 are essential, building on the Administration’s actions to date in support of Ukraine, including imposing punitive measures against the Wagner Group.”
The AJC campaign comes ahead of Friday’s one-year anniversary of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to invade Ukraine. The Wagner Group has played a key role in several particularly heinous incidents, including the massacre of hundreds of civilians in Bucha, and the placement of explosives at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which threatened the lives of millions in and beyond Ukraine.
The Biden Administration already has taken important actions, including subjecting the Wagner Group and its leaders to various sanctions and restrictions in 2022, and designating the group a Transnational Criminal Organization last month.
S.416/H.R. 506 will provide for additional essential steps. Foreign banks, logistics companies, and others around the world that might consider supporting Wagner Group activities in Ukraine, Africa, and elsewhere will be warned that they will face harsh consequences, including criminal prosecution in the U.S. The bill also follows the European Parliament’s recent call for the Wagner Group to be added to the EU’s terrorist list.
Prior to the war in Ukraine, Wagner Group fighters were responsible for committing acts of extreme brutality against civilians in other countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East. A few examples:
-- In the Central African Republic UN experts alleged in 2021 that Wagner Group forces had committed systemic violations there, including arbitrary detention, torture, disappearances, and summary executions, as well as sexual violence and looting, as they fought anti-government forces and secured Russian interests in mineral-rich areas.
-- In Mali, Wagner Group forces have been implicated in several massacres, including one in March 2022 in which at least 400 civilians were killed, and in torture, disappearances, and looting, as they have simultaneously fought rebels while attempting to secure mining concessions and advance military ties between Mali and Russia.
The Wagner group was founded by Dimitry Utkin, a former Russian soldier adorned with Nazi tattoos, and Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin. Reportedly named after Hitler’s favorite composer, the group spreads neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideology in its ranks and in the areas it reaches. In addition, to recoup its battlefield losses in Ukraine, the Wagner Group has recruited 40,000 Russian convicts, who now comprise 80 percent of the estimated 50,000 fighters terrorizing the civilian population