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Guns for gold: the Wagner Network exposed

26 July 2023

The Foreign Affairs Committee today (Wednesday 26 July) publishes its report “Guns for gold: the Wagner Network exposed”.

The report is highly critical of the Government’s response to the threats posed by the Wagner Network and calls for the Government to radically change its approach to disrupting the Wagner Network.

The report includes testimony from a former senior Wagner fighter, which brings to light new information on the operations of the Wagner Network and its close working relationship with the Russian state.

The Committee has for the first time commissioned open-source investigative research as part of its inquiry. The report names Wagner-linked individuals and organisations, as identified via this research.

The Committee found that, for nearly 10 years, the Government has under-played and under-estimated the Wagner Network’s activities, as well as the security implications for Europe and its significant expansion in Africa.

The report describes the Government as “remarkably complacent” about the growing practice of states using Private Military Companies (PMCs) for malign purposes. It warns that PMCs are a growth industry, with more governments seeking to create PMCs to secure their security and economic interests. The report calls for a more coordinated response from the Government and says that it is evident that a taskforce should have been established at least by 2016.

The Committee calls on the Government to urgently assess whether the threshold for sanctions against the individuals and entities named in the report is met. The report urges the Government to move faster and harder in sanctioning Wagner-linked actors and consider action against civilian enablers and corporate “frontmen”.

The report criticises the Government’s reliance on the voluntary model of PMC regulation, the limits of which were highlighted in 2002 by an earlier report by the then Foreign Affairs Committee. The voluntary model does little to prevent “activities of disreputable companies” that are “detrimental to the United Kingdom's interests”.

The report outlines the Wagner Network’s increased activity in Africa and lists the countries in which Wagner military operations have been identified: Ukraine; Syria; the Central African Republic (CAR); Sudan; Libya; Mozambique and Mali.

The Committee calls on the Government to offer a genuinely compelling alternative to priority countries in need of security partnership and revive the previous commitment to channelling half of UK aid to fragile and conflict-affected countries and regions.

The report calls for the urgent proscription of the Wagner Network as a terrorist organisation.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns MP, said:

“This is a landmark report and exposes the dark underbelly of a network that until recently thrived in the shadows.

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. This has allowed the network to grow, spread its tentacles deep into Africa, and exploit countries on their knees due to conflict or instability.

Where the West moves out, Wagner moves in, seeing opportunity in suffering and profit in chaos. Today’s report lays bare the activities of the network in seven key countries, where there is clear evidence of Wagner operations.

The UK must provide an alternative for countries that are struggling; those who feel abandoned by the developed world and see the Wagner Network as a provider of security. Partnership with the Wagner Network is not just beneficial to the Russian Government, it is a foreign policy goal of the Kremlin to force failing states to rely on the Wagner Network.

We are deeply concerned by the Government’s dismal lack of understanding of Wagner’s hold beyond Europe, in particular their grip on African states. This is a fundamental failing of joined up government; ministers appear to be in denial about the consequences of failing to tackle this malign business model before it takes hold.

If we are to undermine the operations of the Wagner Network, we need to sever the network’s wealth at its source. We are calling for the Government to sanction organisations and individuals known to prop up Wagner – faster and harder than before. We are unconvinced that the Government’s ‘sanction’ of the group truly captures the complex web of entities beneath it.

In the wake of the attempted coup last month, the future manifestations of the Wagner Network are uncertain. With the network at its most vulnerable – and the clock ticking – the time for action is now.”

Further information

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