Labour calls for Russian mercenary Wagner Group to be proscribed as terrorists
Labour is calling for ministers to proscribe a Russian mercenary group involved in Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a terrorist organisation.
Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper have jointly demanded the UK Government formally label the Wagner Group a terror outfit after accusing it of committing “appalling atrocities”.
Labour said the move would make it a criminal offence to belong to the private military company, attend its meetings, encourage support or carry its logo in public.
The Wagner Group, led by warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been fighting bloody battles alongside the Russian President’s armed forced in areas of eastern Ukraine.
The mercenaries, made up of contractors and recruited convicts, have battled to take the town of Soledar, a salt-mining town, and is currently involved in a casualty-heavy fight for the town of Bakhmut, also in the Donetsk region.
Labour wants ministers to follow the US’s lead after Washington last month designated Wagner a “significant transnational criminal organisation”.
In a joint statement, Mr Lammy and Ms Cooper said: “The Wagner Group is responsible for the appalling atrocities in Ukraine and across the world.
“No-one in the UK should be allowed to belong to the Wagner Group, support it or promote it.”
The push for Wagner to be proscribed comes after a Government department reportedly helped its millionaire owner Mr Prigozhin to circumvent UK sanctions to take a British journalist to court.
The Treasury is currently investigating how the department reportedly issued licences to allow lawyers to help Mr Prigozhin launch legal action against a Bellingcat journalist in the UK in 2021 while the Russian oligarch was subject to sanctions.
Labour last month pressed for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to be proscribed as a terror group following the execution of a dual British-Iranian national, Alireza Akbari.
A report in the Telegraph has since suggested the US is keen for Britain not to slap such a label on the special branch of Iran’s armed forces in order to serve as a diplomatic go-between for the White House and Tehran.
Mr Lammy and Ms Cooper continued: “One year on from Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, we need to hold those responsible for supporting its barbaric agenda to account.
“The Government should now proscribe the Wagner Group as terrorists — alongside finally taking action on the IRGC.”
Mr Prigozhin, a millionaire with close ties to Mr Putin, has been vocally critical of the Kremlin in its treatment of his company of recruits.
The group has been involved in operations in Syria, across Africa, and was reportedly involved in a plot to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the opening months of the conflict.
Sometimes dubbed “Putin’s chef”, Mr Prigozhin has been alleging for weeks that the Russian military does not provide his group with enough ammunition.
It comes after Wagner’s push to take over Bakhmut, a key target city for Moscow in the partially-occupied Donetsk region, stalled and turned into a grinding battle.
In an emotional audio statement released through his spokesman this week, Mr Prigozhin said the lack of support “can be likened to high treason in the very moment when Wagner is fighting for Bakhmut, losing hundreds of its fighters every day”.
It is the latest sign of tensions between Wagner, which has an unclear legal status as Russian law prohibits collaboration with private military companies, and the Kremlin’s military.
Labour’s demands come a week after leader Sir Keir Starmer visited Kyiv and met with Mr Zelensky.
He vowed that, should there be a change of Government after the next election, that UK support for Ukraine in its fight against the Kremlin would remain steadfast under his premiership.
A UK Government spokesman said: “The UK already has considerable powers to sanction Russian entities, which we have used with our allies to significant effect, including designating Wagner Group in March 2022.
“The UK has sanctioned over 1,500 individuals since the invasion, including over 120 oligarchs with an estimated global net worth of over £140 billion, in response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.”
Home Office officials said they would not comment on organisations being considered for proscription.