Designating the Wagner Group as a terrorist organisation means it can be actively targeted by British troops, an expert has said. An order that needs to be made before the group becomes ‘more dangerous’ under Putin.
Britain will proscribe the Russian paramilitary group as terrorist group in a matter of weeks, according to government insiders.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman is expected to announce the move “imminently” in line with powers under the Terrorism Act 2000, according to the Financial Times.
Dr Marina Miron, a post-doctoral researcher at King’s College London’s War Studies Department, told Express.co.uk such a move would simply be a political statement which on the face of it didn’t make sense as a terrorist organisation uses violence, or its threat, against civilian and/or symbolic targets to change a policy.
She said by definition Wagner has not committed any act of terror, per se and does not fit the category. But she said if the Government were to designate the group a terrorist organisation then it would help provide a legal basis upon which to build a case for British soldiers to engage with Wagner fighters.
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She said: “Designating it as a terrorist organisation means it can be actively targeted by British troops. It could be a way of saying for example, ‘Okay, so they are terrorists therefore we can conduct a counter-terror campaign in Mali to get the Wagner Group out’.
“That might be a far-fetched thought, but [proscribing Wagner as a terrorist organisation] would give some sort of legal cover.”
Dr Miron added such a move would also help the Government persuade Britons to believe the group needed to be eradicated, especially in Africa which posseses natural resources important to western industrial interests and where Wagner has operated.
She was speaking to Express.co.uk before news of the apparent death of Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin in a private plane crash on Wednesday (August 23). It is unknown if his death will change any plans.
The downing of the Embraer jet en route between Moscow and St. Petersburg fell exactly two months to the day of Wagner’s failed rebellion, which saw mercenaries approach the Russian capital after capturing Rostov-on-Don and the headquarters of the Southern Military District.
A private military company funded by the Russian government, Wagner grew rich from fighting in Ukraine, the Middle East and Africa, but questions have been raised about its future since the presumed death of its leader.
Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Thursday (August 24) that Wagner mercenaries would be an even bigger threat if Putin took control of the group.
Mr Morawiecki told a news conference: “The Wagner Group comes under Putin’s leadership. Let everyone answer the question for themselves: Will the threat be bigger or smaller? For me, that’s a rhetorical question.”
If Wagner were to be brought under the Kremlin’s command, then the Government will no doubt be reassessing whether it should proscribe the group as a terrorist organisation.
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Russia expert Samantha de Bendern from think tank Chatham House told the BBC that Wagner’s leadership may have been “decapitated” but a number of the group’s commanders are still around and claiming they are now in charge.
She said it was difficult to tell if they would have any authority among Wagner’s mercenaries, adding: “Wagner Group will no longer be the same, but it doesn’t mean it won’t be any less dangerous.”
Ms de Bendern, citing pro-Wagner Telegram channels, also said fighters from the group who agreed to move under the command of Russia’s Defence Ministry have already done so and those still outside the Kremlin’s control are “very, very angry” and threatening another march on Moscow.
Meanwhile, the British Government is under pressure to act, with a cross-party group of MPs slamming the UK’s approach to tackling Wagner as extremely underwhelming.
Sir Chris Bryant MP, who sits on Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told Express.co.uk: “We have been calling for this for ages and I simply don’t understand why the Government has been dragging its heels. The truth is the Wagner group is a pernicious organisation which has committed repeated abuses and war crimes. Why wouldn’t we proscribe it?”
The UK has already imposed sanctions on Wagner and Prigozhin as well as a number of the group’s top commanders.
But proscription would go further as it effectively bans an organisation under British law and makes it a criminal offence to be a member of or help a group, encourage support for it or use a group’s logo. A majority of proscription offences carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman can proscribe an organisation if she “reasonably believes” it is concerned in terrorism and it is “proportionate” to do so. If Wagner were to be proscribed it would join the likes of al-Qaeda, Hizbollah and Isis. It would also render the group’s financial assets as terrorist property, meaning they could seized.
Alicia Kearns MP, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, told Express.co.uk the need to proscribe Wagner is as critical as ever, with the situation in Niger and Sudan making that “horrifyingly clear”.
She said: “It appears that over the past two months, whilst Prigozhin was forced into exile in Belarus, Putin has been slowly shoring up his power over the Wagner Network as best he can. At the recent Africa-Russia Summit, Putin introduced General Andrey Averyanov to African leaders. Averyanov is currently the Head of the GRU’s Covert Operations Team, and I suspect was being positioned to take over leadership of the Wagner Network in Africa and beyond.
“Putin cannot afford to lose his access to Africa’s natural resources, because their wealth is enabling him to survive sanctions and fund his illegal invasion of Ukraine. Wagner will continue to destabilise, steal, and leave behind atrocities unless action is taken.
“This changes little in terms of Government action – all of the recommendations of the Foreign Affairs Committee remain urgently needed, not only with the Wagner Network, but a more consistent approach to all Private Military Organisations, and I hope to see the Government adopt all of the recommendations in weeks to come.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Whilst the Government keeps the list of proscribed organisations under review, we do not comment on whether a specific organisation is or is not being considered for proscription.”
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