The United Kingdom on Thursday announced sanctions of 13 individuals and businesses in the Central African Republic (CAR), Mali and Sudan with links to Russia’s Wagner paramilitary group, including one it described as the “right-hand man” of the group’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The UK government accused the Wagner Group of being responsible for executions and torture in Mali and CAR as well as threats to peace and security in Sudan.
The sanctions come weeks after Prigozhin’s failed mutiny in Russia, which raised questions about the future of Wagner’s military and commercial operations in African countries including CAR.
Footage published by Prigozhin’s press service on Telegram on Wednesday, however, appeared to show the Wagner boss telling his fighters they would take no further part in the war in Ukraine for now and to prepare for “a new journey to Africa”.
Newly-sanctioned Konstantin Pikalyov, who now faces asset freezes and a travel ban in the UK, is an important adviser of Prigozhin’s as well as being the operational head of Wagner in CAR, the UK said in a statement.
“Wherever Wagner operates, it has a catastrophic effect on communities, worsens existing conflicts and damages the reputations of countries that host them,” the UK’s Minister for Development and Africa Andrew Mitchell said.
Among others sanctioned were Vitaly Perfilov in the CAR, Alexander Maloletko, who the UK called a close associate of Prigozhin, and Ivan Maslov, head of the Wagner Group in Mali.
In Sudan, the UK added Mikhail Potepkin, who it said was associated with the Wagner Group as well as being the director of the mining company Meroe Gold.
Meroe Gold was among three businesses sanctioned in Sudan for acting as fronts for the Wagner Group and threatening peace and security. The UK said Meroe Gold had imported equipment including weapons, helicopters and military trucks.
It is unclear whether the sanctioned individuals are also directly linked to the Kremlin.
In June, Russian president Vladimir Putin said Wagner was “fully financed” by the state, adding that about 86 billion roubles (approximately $940m) were paid to the group between May 2022 and May 2023.
However, in Mali, which is battling a years-long operation against armed groups affiliated with ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda, Moscow and Bamako have previously said Russian forces there are not Wagner mercenaries but trainers helping local troops with equipment bought from Russia.
The mercenaries have been blamed for human rights abuses including, most notably, an incident in March 2022 in Moura, in central Mali, where local troops and suspected Russian fighters allegedly killed hundreds of civilians.