France calls on EU to list Wagner as ‘terrorists’, UK considering

French parliament told that Wagner mercenaries follow the geopolitical policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Visitors wearing military camouflage stand at the entrance of the 'PMC Wagner Centre', which is associated with businessman and founder of the Wagner private military group Yevgeny Prigozhin
Visitors to the 'PMC Wagner Centre', operated by founder of the Wagner private military group Yevgeny Prigozhin, in St Petersburg, Russia, in November 2022 [File: AP Photo]

The French parliament has adopted a resolution calling on the European Union to formally label Russia’s mercenary Wagner force a “terror group” as reports emerged that the United Kingdom also appears poised to designate the group a “terror organisation”.

The resolution on Tuesday, which is non-binding and largely symbolic, passed France’s parliament with unanimous support across the political spectrum.

“Wherever they work, Wagner members spread instability and violence,” French legislator Benjamin Haddad told parliament.

“They kill and torture. They massacre and pillage. They intimidate and manipulate with almost total impunity,” he said.

Wagner fighters are not simple mercenaries driven by an “appetite for money” but they “follow a broad strategy, from Mali to Ukraine, of supporting the aggressive policies of President [Vladimir] Putin’s regime towards our democracies”, he added.

Authorities in France have also blamed the group for running anti-French propaganda operations in West Africa, particularly Mali.

Haddad said he hoped the resolution would encourage the 27 members of the EU to put Wagner on its official list of “terrorist organisations”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised the French parliament in a video message and urged other countries to follow France’s example.

“Special thanks to the French parliament for today’s decision to recognise the Russian pseudo-private Wagner group as a terrorist organisation,” Zelenskky said.

“This is something that should be adopted by the entire world – every manifestation of terrorism must be destroyed, and every terrorist must be convicted,” he said.

UK designation of Wagner ‘imminent’

The UK Home Office has been building a case for two months and proscription of Wagner as a “terrorist organisation” was “imminent” within weeks, The Times newspaper reported on Tuesday, citing a government source.

If adopted, it would be a criminal offence in the UK to belong to Wagner, attend its meetings, encourage support for it or carry its logo in public, The Times said.

The designation would also impose financial sanctions on the group, and there would be implications for Wagner’s ability to raise money if any funds went through UK financial institutions, the newspaper added.

According to the newspaper, there have been “suspicions” the Wagner Group helped move money out of the UK after financial sanctions were imposed on Russian oligarchs and allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Home Office said it was looking into the Times report.

While the French resolution calling on the EU to designate Wagner a “terrorist organisation” would allow EU members to freeze assets of the group and its members, and bar European companies and citizens from dealing with the organisation, current sanctions do not appear to have hindered the group’s operations.

Wagner and its entrepreneur leader Yevgeny Prigozhin have been repeatedly sanctioned by the EU, including for human rights abuses in Africa and for participating in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Prigozhin had his assets in the EU frozen in 2020 and was placed on a visa blacklist over the deployment of Wagner fighters to war-torn Libya, a decision he unsuccessfully appealed.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna conceded on Tuesday that legally the EU “terrorist” label would not have any “direct supplemental effect” on the group.

But “we should not underestimate the symbolic importance of such a designation, nor the dissuasive effect that it could have on states tempted to turn” to Wagner, she said.

The parliaments of Lithuania and Estonia have already labelled Wagner a “terrorist organisation”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies