Russia's Wagner Fighters Still Pose 'Serious National Security Threat' To UK, MPs Warn

The foreign affairs committee said the UK underestimated the mercenaries for years.
Fighters of Wagner private mercenary group after the attempted
Fighters of Wagner private mercenary group after the attempted
STRINGER via Reuters

MPs on the foreign affairs committee have warned that Russia’s Wagner fighters still pose a “serious national security threat” to the UK and its allies.

In a new report released on Wednesday, the foreign affairs committee looked into the government’s attempts to stop the mercenary group – and said ministers should now label the fighters as a terrorist organisation.

The committee’s chair Alicia Kearns said: “In the ten years since the Wagner Network’s formation, the UK government has lacked a coherent strategy and efforts to meaningfully tackle Wagner have been non-existent.”

She said this has permitted the group to grow, “spread its tentacles into Africa and exploit countries on their knees due to conflict or instability”.

It comes days after reports that Belarus’s president Alexander Lukashenko, told his ally Russian president Vladimir Putin the “mood is bad” among Wagner fighters in his country and “want to go to the West”, particularly Poland.

The mercenaries are known for their violence and going to extremes for short-term goals.

The Wagner Group operated in the shadows for years after it was set up in 2014 by oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, and started to support pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine.

It then started to help to establish Moscow’s influence around the world by offering up its fighters to conflict zones – although Russia publicly denied any involvement with the group, but Russian president Vladimir Putin confessed in June that the Kremlin has been bankrolling it.

The fighters were pushed into the spotlight last year when Prigozhin claimed the mercenaries were responsible for some military success in the Ukraine invasion.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group military company, was exiled to Belarus after his failed coup of the Russian defence ministry.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group military company, was exiled to Belarus after his failed coup of the Russian defence ministry.
via Associated Press

After months of increasingly vocal complaints about the way the war was being run, Prigozhin led an armed uprising to overthrow the Russian ministry of defence. It shook the stability of Putin’s regime briefly, although Prigozhin claimed he had no plans to overthrow the president he just wanted to take control of the defence ministry.

Still, there was a possibility of civil war for a moment, as Wagner were able to seize a town without any pushback from local residents.

But, it was aborted after Belarus’s president intervened with a deal, all while Putin was allegedly “paralysed”.

Prigozhin was then sent into exile in Belarus, meaning the future of the Wagner group is in question. Some fighters have been absorbed by the Russian military, others are training with Belarusian soldiers.

However, the foreign affairs committee still called for the UK to do more when it comes to the mercenaries.

The MPs claimed that the UK only perceived the network “through the prism of Europe, not least given its geographic spread and the impact of its activities on UK interests further abroad”.

It also lashed out at the government’s “fundamental lack of knowledge” about what the fighters actually do, and said it was “deeply regrettable” that the government didn’t even invest in researching it until 2022.

Earlier this week, the UK announced sanctions against officials linked to Wagner in Mali, Central African Republic and Sudan, on top of the existing sanctions against Prigozhin himself.

But the committee MPs said Downing Street need to “move faster and harder” to sanction the group further, adding: “If we are to undermine the operations of the Wagner Network, we need to sever the network’s wealth at its source.”

An FCDO spokesperson told POLITICO that the UK has already “heavily sanctioned” Wagner, Prigozhin, key commanders by limiting travel and freezing their assets.

They added that the UK has been one of the leading suppliers of military aid to Ukraine, and will “continue to work with our allies to expose and counter their destabilising activities around the world.”


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