There are around 50,000 Wagner Group fighters currently deployed to Ukraine. The US has designated the Wagner group as a “transnational criminal organization” while citing ties with North Korea.
The Biden administration announced further sanctions against the private Russian military enterprise Wagner Group, whose founder has close ties to President Putin, when it became obvious that the group is assisting to spearhead the major operation in the Soledar and Bakhmut areas of eastern Ukraine.
Wagner has been labeled a “significant Transnational Criminal Organization” according to National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, allowing the US to restrict its access to any US-produced commodities or technology. It also opens the door for US Commerce to pursue its foreign assets as a legally designated criminal enterprise. “It will broaden the network of nations and institutions that will be able to stop doing business with Wagner,” Kirby said at a White House news briefing about the new move.
In an intriguing twist, the White House claims to have information that Wagner is receiving direct supplies from North Korea. While the US has been raising the Russia-Pyongyang connection since the summer, this is the first time the US administration has attempted to produce evidence.
On November 18, Kirby showed the reporters what he claimed to be photographic evidence of rail carriages heading from Russia to North Korea. He claimed that cargo containers were loaded with weapons or ammunition and returned to Russia the next day.
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“We do expect that it will continue to receive North Korean weapon systems,” Kirby asserted. “We obviously condemn North Korea’s actions and we urge North Korea to cease these deliveries to Wagner immediately and we are going further by taking action against Wagner itself.”
The White House also stated that it will engage with the UN Security Council to enforce Wagner’s violations, and that it has forwarded evidence on Pyongyang’s ties to Wagner to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee. More sanctions, according to Kirby, will be imposed next week.
The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) has admitted that the majority of Soledar is already under Russian control, with Russia’s Wagner Group capturing Ukraine’s 120+ mile salt mine tunnels.
Russia and North Korea share a ten-mile-long strip of land border:
Kirby additionally pointed out that “Wagner is becoming a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries.” He emphasized Russian defense officials’ misgivings about Wagner’s tactics, such as recruiting from Russian jails and offering release contingent on months of action in Ukraine.