The US Treasury Department has placed Wagner Group, the Russian mercenary company, and several of its affiliates on a blacklist. The move comes as the private military force helps the Kremlin capture key cities in eastern Ukraine.
Announcing the decision on Thursday, the Treasury said the penalties will target eight individuals, 16 entities and four specific airplanes in an effort to “degrade the Russian Federation’s capacity to wage war against Ukraine.”
“Today’s expanded sanctions on Wagner, as well as new sanctions on their associates and other companies enabling the Russian military complex, will further impede Putin’s ability to arm and equip his war machine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement, claiming Moscow is now ”desperately searching for arms and support” due to the impact of Western sanctions.
In December, the Joe Biden administration claimed the Wagner Group was leading the assault on Bakhmut, a city in Ukraine’s Donetsk region also known to Russians as Artyomovsk. In recent days, Russian forces have made progress in the area, after Wagner fighters help to seize the nearby town of Soledar. Amid reports of mass casualties and ”meat grinder” tactics, a Ukrainian defense official admitted on Wednesday that “the enemy is increasing pressure on the Bakhmut and Vuhledar areas.”
Yellen went on to say that the unprecedented wave of Western sanctions and export controls targeting Moscow ”continue to bite” and were weakening the Kremlin’s ability to wage war. However, the Russian ruble was among the world’s best-performing currencies in 2022, and Moscow continues to reap substantial revenues from energy sales despite efforts to cap prices by the United States and Europe, suggesting the sanctions spree may not be having the intended effect.
Russia is not the only country to use mercenaries to achieve its foreign policy objectives, with the Wagner Group largely following a model established by American military contractors throughout the War on Terror. The White House used soldiers hired by the firm Blackwater to fight in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and the company gained notoriety for firing on non-combatants on countless occasions, including one incident in 2007 that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. While the mercenaries were initially granted legal immunity by the US State Department, four contractors were ultimately charged and convicted for murder and manslaughter. President Donald Trump would later pardon the men in December 2020 and all four remain free.