By Spy Uganda Correspondent
The Biden administration on Tuesday announced sanctions targeting the Wagner Group and its leader Yevgency Prigozhin, just days after the mercenary military launched a short-lived mutiny in Russia.
The U.S. is targeting a network of companies tied to Wagner and Prigozhin that mine and sell gold, minerals, gems and other precious metals from African countries where the group is active.
The sanctions are aimed at disrupting the group’s funding sources that finance its military activities in Ukraine and Africa and enrich Prigozhin, the Treasury Department said in a statement.
“The Wagner Group funds its brutal operations in part by exploiting natural resources in countries like the Central African Republic and Mali. The United States will continue to target the Wagner Group’s revenue streams to degrade its expansion and violence in Africa, Ukraine, and anywhere else,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson.
The sanctions come amid confusion over the fate of the organization. Prigozhin, who launched the mutiny, has taken exile in Belarus but it is yet unclear what access he will have to Wagner and his other companies.
President Biden and other U.S. officials have gone out of their way to emphasize the U.S. had no role in last week’s revolt, warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin could seek to blame foreign powers for the Wagner mutiny — a frequent tactic by the Kremlin.
Wagner soldiers are fighting on the frontlines in Ukraine but the private military company has a history of working in unstable African countries, who contract with the group as a for-hire security force.
The Biden administration in January labeled Wagner a transnational criminal organization, and has sought to use sanctions to choke off its financial resources. The Treasury Department sanctioned the head of Wagner’s operations in Mali in May for trying to source weapons through the African nation to be used in Ukraine.
The U.S. has also previously sanctioned Prigozhin for attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
The new sanctions target two companies linked to Prigozhin, a mining company called Midas Ressources SARLU, and a gold and diamond purchasing company, Diamville SAU, both located in the Central African Republic.
Midas is operating in CAR’s Ndassima gold mine, Treasury said. It said that the gold in the mine is valued at more than one billion dollars.
“Midas, along with other Prigozhin-linked firms operating in the CAR, is key to financing Wagner’s operations in the CAR and beyond,” Treasury said.
Prigozhin’s profits from the Midas mines was stymied following U.S. sanctions on Russia’s banking sector in the wake of its full scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Treasury said that the companies participated in a scheme where the gold from the Central African Republic was converted into U.S. dollars, and the cash was given over by hand to Prigozhin-linked companies to avoid U.S. sanctions on Russian financial institutions.
Treasury also sanctioned a Dubai-based industrial goods supplier linked to the Prigozhin companies, called Industrial Resources General Trading, and a Russia-based firm, Limited Liability Company DM, linked to schemes to the gold-for-cash scheme.
Treasury also sanctioned Russian-national Andrey Nikolayevich Ivanov, an executive in the Wagner Group, who they say works closely with the Wagner group and Malian government officials on weapons deals, mining concerns and other Wagner activities.
Congress wants to label Wagner a foreign terrorist organization but the administration has pushed back on those efforts, arguing it would impact U.S. relations with African leaders who employ the group and have instead focused on targeted sanctions.
“We would continue to urge any governments who have considered inviting Wagner to operate inside their borders, who have considered security arrangements with Wagner, who have considered any sort of cooperation with Wagner at all, we would continue to urge them to not pursue those arrangements,” State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said Tuesday when previewing the sanctions.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that “several hundred” Russian military instructors will continue to work in African countries, in particular Mali and the Central African Republican, two countries that have official contracts with Wagner, the Russian, state-owned RT reported.
Putin, in a televised speech on Monday following Prigozhin’s retreat, said that Wagner soldiers have “the opportunity to continue your service to Russia” by signing contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense or other security services, “or return home.” He added that “those who want to are free to go to Belarus.”