Jan 21 (Reuters) – The head of Russian private military contractor Wagner on Saturday posted a short message to the White House asking what crime his company was accused of after Washington announced new sanctions against the group.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Friday that Wagner, which supported Russian forces in their invasion of Ukraine and claims they advanced on the battlefield, would be designated a transnational criminal organization.
A message in English addressed to Kirby and posted on the Telegram channel of the press service of Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin reads: “Dear Mr. Kirby, can you explain the crime committed by PMC Wagner?”
Kirby described Wagner as “a criminal organization that commits atrocities and human rights abuses on a massive scale”.
Last month, the White House said Wagner had received a shipment of weapons from North Korea to help build up Russian forces in Ukraine.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry called the report unfounded and Prigozhin denied at the time having received such a handover, calling the report “gossip and speculation”.
Washington had already imposed trade restrictions with Wagner in 2017 and again in December in an effort to restrict its access to weapons.
The European Union imposed its own sanctions in December 2021 on Wagner, which is active in Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Mozambique and Mali, as well as Ukraine.
Prigozhin described Wagner as a completely independent force with its own planes, tanks, missiles and artillery.
He is wanted in the United States for his interference in the US election, something he said in November he had done and would continue to do.
Written by Kevin Levy. Edited by Helen Popper
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