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HMG finally ups its game on Wagner

30 October 2023

The Foreign Affairs Committee publishes the Government response to its report “Guns for gold: the Wagner Network exposed”. The response provides an update on the UK’s attempts to address the threat posed by Private Military Companies (PMCs) and in particular the Wagner Network. The Government agrees or partially agrees to 16 of the Committee’s recommendations, disagreeing with only one.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) agree with the idea “to establish a cross-Government taskforce on Wagner” and have “dedicated new resource to containing and countering Wagner and other Russian proxy PMSCs and are working closely with Allies to maximise our collective impact.”

The response acknowledges the continued evolution of the Wagner Network: “significantly, Yevgeny Prigozhin and other senior leaders of the group died in a plane crash on 23 August”, which “may create new opportunities”.

The Government says that there is “a real value in exposing the egregious and self-serving activities of the Wagner Group, in whatever form it may transition to, as well as other proxy Russian PMSCs”. The Government highlights that in recent months it has “increased our efforts to use the FCDO’s overseas network and strategic communications channels to highlight Wagner’s human rights’ abuses and its destabilising role. We have also stepped up our assessment and policy co-ordination with Western and regional partners.”

On the proscription of the Wagner Network, the Government says that it “judges that Wagner commits and participates in terrorism”, emphasising the use of serious violence in Ukraine.

The Government states that the group has been implicated “in serious acts of violence and damage to property while working in a variety of African countries, demonstrating Wagner’s broader involvement in terrorism.”

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

“I welcome the Foreign Office’s positive response to our report and adoption of 16 recommendations. Efforts to counter the Wagner Network have stepped up in recent months, and we are pleased that the Foreign Affairs Committee has been able to contribute to this work.

“Private Military Companies are a clear threat to global security and the rules-based international order. The proliferation of the Wagner Network across several continents should be a wake-up call for the UK Government: for too long we have underestimated and neglected this group, and the issue of PMCs more broadly.

“Part of the problem lies in the attractiveness of groups, such as Wagner, to autocratic and corrupt regimes as a tool of regime survival. In return for gold and critical minerals, their guns for hire exploit parts of the world grappling with poverty and conflict, deploying brutality and criminality to secure the outcomes their Kremlin and local paymasters’ desire. The UK must be prepared to offer real alternatives to countries that are struggling and highlight the severe – and sometimes deadly – consequences of collaboration with Wagner.

“The proscription of the Wagner Network in September – which the Foreign Affairs Committee had called for in our report – is a logical step towards putting greater costs on those who partner with the group.

“Sanctions are also a powerful tool and a mechanism to prevent mercenaries from profiting from their heinous crimes. We are pleased that the Government has taken our recommendation to sanction key individuals onboard.

“The crimes committed by the Wagner Network fall heaviest on innocent people in territories where Wagner maintains control for corrupt elites. Steps to counter this ruthless group are welcome – but there is still more to be done.”

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