Tuesday, May 21, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Is the Wagner Group a terrorist organization?

  • UK's Home Secretary drafts order to designate Wagner Group as a terrorist organization.
  • In the UK, supporting a private military company would become illegal if designated as a terrorist organization
  • Prior to Russia's Ukraine attack, Wagner Group was under scrutiny for alleged war crimes in the Middle East and Africa
Update : 07 Sep 2023, 10:03 PM

Torture, murder, looting; the gruesome list of accusations goes on. In the past years, the mercenary Wagner Group, owned by the now-deceased Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been accused of multiple war crimes in the various war zones it operates. The private army plays a leading role in the proxy wars and armed conflicts Russia has been waging across the globe.

In Libya, for example, the military group reportedly planted landmines, which are banned by international law. In Mali and the Central African Republic, it is said to have conducted executions. And Wagner mercenaries allegedly tortured and killed Ukrainian civilians.

"Its operations in Ukraine, the Middle East, and Africa are a threat to global security," said British Home Secretary Suella Braverman, adding that "they are terrorists, plain and simple."

That is why she wants to see the Wagner Group proscribed as such in the future. Her ministry has just proposed a draft order to Parliament on the matter. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak explicitly welcomed the move in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

What makes a terrorist organization?

Braverman's proposal is based on the Terrorism Act 2000 which defines terrorism as "the use or threat of action" that "involves serious violence" and "is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public … for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause." 

Other states and international organizations use similar definitions, but the concepts of "terror" and "terrorist organizations" are essentially contested, meaning that despite countless attempts, there is no unitary global definition of what these terms imply. According to German law, terrorism is a sustained battle toward political ends fought with attacks on life, limb, and property. However, unlike Britain, Germany is not eager to designate a terrorist organization independently but would prefer to take a joint decision within the EU framework.

What legal consequences does the designation have?

In the UK, being designated as a terrorist organization would mean that any support for the private military company would be punishable by law. Helpers who, say, organize meetings for Wagner members, provide financial or logistical support, or publicly display the group's symbols would face high financial penalties or up to 14 years in prison.

The state could also confiscate property belonging to the Wagner Group. The UK and many other countries and international organizations had already sanctioned the Wagner Group and Prigozhin, including freezing financial assets. In the future, members and supporters of the Wagner Group would encounter further difficulties acquiring funds in the UK, as this activity could be criminally prosecuted.

In addition, the terrorist label also creates a legal basis for victims to sue the Wagner Group in British courts for millions in damages for injustices suffered, even if these crimes were not committed on British soil.

Who else has taken this step?

Even before Russia launched its full-scale attack on Ukraine, the Wagner Group was already in the crosshairs of international human rights organizations for its alleged war crimes in the Middle East and Africa. In 2020, the US and EU sanctioned Prigozhin and his private army for fighting alongside General Haftar in Libya.

In early 2023, the US designated the Russian proxy Wagner Group as a "transnational criminal organization." Simultaneously, various efforts emerged to label the Wagner Group as a terrorist organization.

There were proposals in the European Parliament, the US Congress, the French National Assembly, and the Swedish Riksdag. While the EU still hesitates to issue a bloc-wide ban, Lithuania has already branded the Wagner Group as a terrorist organization. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has passed a similar resolution.

Will other countries soon follow suit?

In Germany, pressure is mounting to demand a classification of this sort at the EU level. In late May, the opposition CDU/CSU parliamentary group submitted a request to the Bundestag, but as things stand, the governing coalition does not see a legal basis for this.

"The legal requirements for an EU listing as a terrorist organization are high," the federal government responded to the opposition's request, as the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported. 

Classifying the Wagner Group as such would require a "comprehensive package of evidence based on publicly available information." Otherwise, the information could not be used in court, and the movement for classification as a terror group would be a dull sword without any enforceable legal consequences.

In the US, the discussion of whether to classify the Wagner Group as a terrorist organization is in full swing. Grounds for and against such a decision are also being weighed here. However, the considerations are not only legal but also political. Placing the Wagner Group at the same level as organizations like Boko Haram, the so-called Islamic State, or al-Qaida would send a strong message of condemnation.

But President Joe Biden's administration worries that this could seriously endanger US relations with African countries such as Mali and the Central African Republic, where the Wagner Group often acts with the tacit approval of the governments concerned.

Top Brokers


Popular Links