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The US is taking aim at Wagner, the only Russian force seemingly having any success in Ukraine, with crippling sanctions

People wearing military camouflage look at drones on display in an exhibition in the 'PMC Wagner Centre', associated with the founder of the Wagner private military group (PMC) Yevgeny Prigozhin, during the official opening of the office block on the National Unity Day, in Saint Petersburg, on November 4, 2022.
  • The US government has taken aim at the notorious Wagner Group with sweeping new sanctions.

  • The move comes after it labeled the mercenary group a "significant transnational criminal organization."

  • Wagner appears to be the only force fighting for Russia that has found any kind of success in Ukraine lately.

The US government has announced a sweeping list of sanctions aimed at the Wagner Group, a notorious Russian paramilitary organization that lately has appeared to be the only force fighting the Kremlin's war finding any success on the battlefield in Ukraine.

The US Treasury Department on Thursday designated Wagner a "significant transnational criminal organization" and announced sanctions against a handful of individuals — "cronies" of Russian President Vladimir Putin — and entities involved in the mercenary group's global network.

Among the targeted entities are companies involved in Russia's defense-industrial complex, such as those that repair aircraft or develop communication equipment and companies that support Wagner's international military operations. These include, for example, Russian and Chinese firms that supplies satellite imagery.

In tandem with the Treasury's announcement, the State Department also moved to sanction entities and individuals linked to Wagner and its founder, Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin. These measures target "a range of Wagner's key infrastructure," including front companies, an aviation firm, and a propaganda organization the group uses.

The State Department also sanctioned three officials of Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service who were identified as having helped facilitate the recruitment of prisoners into Wagner, an operation that began months ago.

Prisoners who joined Wagner under the promise of eventual freedom have since been sent to the front lines in Ukraine alongside freshly mobilized Russian troops. There, these forces have at times served as sponges, absorbing heavy Ukrainian fire, clearing the way for better trained soldiers to move in behind them, US officials have said.

A pedestrian walks past a mural depicting the logo of the Russian mercenary 'Group Wagner' and a slogan in Russian on January 20, 2023 in Belgrade, Serbia.
A pedestrian walks past a mural depicting the logo of the Russian mercenary 'Group Wagner' and a slogan in Russian on January 20, 2023 in Belgrade, Serbia.Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images
A defaced mural of Russia's mercenary group Wagner reading "Wagner Group - Russian knights" on the side wall of an apartment bock in Belgrade on January 20, 2023.
A defaced mural of Russia's mercenary group Wagner reading "Wagner Group - Russian knights" on the side wall of an apartment bock in Belgrade on January 20, 2023.OLIVER BUNIC/AFP via Getty Images

The sweeping US sanctions against Wagner come as the mercenary group appears to be the only Kremlin-linked force making any gains, limited as they may be, in Ukraine.

Britain's defense ministry estimates that Wagner has as many as 50,000 fighters in Ukraine and has become "a key component" of Moscow's military campaign. These efforts are currently focused around the war-torn eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, where intense fighting has raged for months.

Just north of Bakhmut is the small salt-mining town of Soledar, where Wagner's forces have claimed victory over Ukraine. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, wrote in a recent analysis that the town's capture was "not an operationally significant development" and that capturing it likely came at a high cost.

The Russian defense ministry initially credited its forces with the capture of Soledar, a rare Russian victory initially disputed by Ukraine, but later backtracked, giving Prigozhin's paramilitary organization the praise after he criticized the ministry for taking credit for Wagner's achievements.

Wagner's prominence in Ukraine has been underscored by rifts between the mercenary group and the regular Russian military. There have even been strange spats over rules about facial hair and cellphone usage.

"We are seeing indications, including in intelligence, that tensions between Wagner and the Russian Ministry of Defense are increasing," National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby said last week. "Wagner is becoming a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries."

Beyond Ukraine, the Wagner Group has been accused of carrying out atrocities in various countries across Africa, like Mali, Libya, and the Central African Republic. There, an independent United Nations report concluded that Wagner fighters committed violations of international humanitarian law like extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, and torture.

Read the original article on Business Insider