U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the Wagner Group of mercenaries are exploiting natural resources and "these ill-gotten gains are used to fund Moscow's war machine in Africa, the Middle East, and Ukraine."
"Make no mistake: people across Africa are paying a heavy price for the Wagner Group's exploitative practices and human rights violations," Thomas-Greenfield told a U.N. Security Council meeting on the financing of armed groups through illicit trafficking of natural resources in Africa.
Wagner, staffed by veterans of the Russian armed forces, has fought in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, Mali and other countries. It was founded in 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and started supporting pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.
Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said he regretted that Thomas-Greenfield raised the issue of "Russian support to African partners."
"This exposes their real plans and aims - what they really need from African countries," said Nebenzia, without elaborating.
Russia's February invasion of Ukraine came at a time of heightened rivalry between the West, China and Russia over Africa's natural resources, trade and security ties. Some states worry about being squeezed in the middle of an intense geopolitical rivalry.
Russia has been trying to chip away at its international isolation after nearly three-quarters of the General Assembly voted to reprimand Moscow and demand it withdraw its troops within a week of its Feb. 24 invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
Next week, the 193-member General Assembly is due to vote on whether to condemn Moscow's move to annex four partially occupied regions in Ukraine after staging what it called referendums.