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Can US Sanctions Impact Wagner?

FILE - U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland.
FILE - U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland.

Analysts say plans by the U.S. to designate a Russian private military company, The Wagner Group as a 'Transnational Criminal' organization could be a signal to countries especially in Africa to backpedal on their engagements with the mercenaries as it moves to further weaken the Kremlin's efforts in attacking Ukraine.

White House National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby said the sanctions that go with designating the mercenary "Wagner Group" as a criminal entity will squeeze its ability to do business around the world.

On Saturday, the Wagner Group's head responded to the White House in a short letter addressed to Kirby requesting clarity for what it is being sanctioned for, according to Reuters.

The letter posted on the Telegram channel of Prigozhin's press service read: "Dear Mr Kirby, Could you please clarify what crime was committed by PMC Wagner?"

''Prigozhin has described Wagner as a fully independent force with its own aircraft, tanks, rockets and artillery,'' according to Reuters.

Wagner, is said to be heavily involved in Ukraine, helping Russia's dwindling soldiers on the frontline to capture the city of Bakhmut. The Group owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally to Russian president Vladimir Putin, even took credit for the fall of Soledar, near Bakhmut this week.

Experts say the group also has a presence in Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Mali, and Syria - with documented reports of human rights abuses and lootings.

Atlantic Council analyst Michael Shurkin, also with "14 North Strategies," told VOA that “It's not clear what impact this [the designation and sanctions] have on the Wagner group itself. We like to think that sanctions have lots of effects, [but] they tend to have less of an effect than maybe we would like,” he said.

“At the very least it sends a message that this is what we (U.S.) think of the Wagner group and also this might encourage countries perhaps in Africa to think twice if engaging Wagner services because this could risk getting them in trouble with the United States' government.”

The news comes roughly a year to the first anniversary of Russia's aggressive attack on its neighbor, and analyst Shurkin said although this could have been done sooner, it is necessary now.

“I wouldn't say that what the U.S. is doing now is sufficient, but at least it's necessary...maybe this should have been done a year ago probably or several years ago, but here we are doing it now,” he said.

Declan Galvin of Nairobi-based risk advisory company WS Insight agrees that the designation by the U.S. is a strong alert for “anybody” who engages the services of the Wagner Group.

He told VOA that it's “unfortunate” it has taken this long for “some more robust action to designate and then enhance sanctions on not just the Wagner Group, but its financers.”

“What it does mean is at least with these sanctions that anybody who tries to dabble or interact with the Wagner group faces more penalties and repercussions. It will help somewhat dissuade, but it remains like a major concern,” he said.

Galvin said because the Wagner Group seems to be succeeding largely due to its reliance on modern technology, the U.S. sanctions would help weaken its support for the Russian military in the Ukraine conflict.

“Essentially, they (referring to Wagner mercenaries) are deploying some of these small drones in advance of certain Wagner units to collect real time intelligence and then allow those Wagner fighters to navigate or to manage the flank in the Ukrainian forces,” he said.

“So, that kind of technology needs to be basically taken and redirected away from them.''