Individuals now face asset freezes and travel bans in the UK over alleged human rights abuses in three African states.
The British government on Thursday announced sanctions on 13 individuals and businesses in the Central African Republic (CAR), Mali and Sudan with links to the Wagner paramilitary group in Russia, including one it described as the “right-hand man” of the group’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The British government says it has added Wagner officials to its list, accusing them of being responsible for killings and torture in Mali and CAR and for threats to peace and security in Sudan.
The sanctions come weeks after Prigozhin’s failed mutiny in Russia, raising questions about the future of Wagner’s military and commercial operations in African countries including CAR.
But footage published by Prigozhin’s press service on Telegram on Wednesday showed Wagner’s boss telling his fighters that they would not participate in the war in Ukraine for now but would prepare for a “new journey in Africa”.
Newly sanctioned Konstantin Pikalyov, who now faces UK asset freezes and a travel ban, was a key adviser to Prigozhin, as well as Wagner’s operational head in CAR, the British government said in a statement.
“Wherever Wagner operates, it has a catastrophic impact on communities, exacerbating existing conflicts and tarnishing the reputations of the countries that host it,” said the United Kingdom’s minister for Development and Africa, Andrew Mitchell.
Among others allowed are CAR’s Vitaly Perfilov and Alexander Maloletko, whom it called a close associate of Prigozhin, plus Ivan Maslov, head of the Wagner Group in Mali.
In Sudan, the UK added Mikhail Potepkin, said to be associated with the Wagner Group, as well as a director of the mining company Meroe Gold.
Meroe Gold is one of three businesses the government says it has sanctioned in Sudan for acting as fronts for the Wagner Group and threatening peace and security. It is said that Meroe Gold has 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 funded” by the state, adding that about 86 billion rubles (approximately $940m) had been paid to the group between May 2022 and May 2023.
However, in Mali, which is fighting a year-long operation against armed groups affiliated with ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda, Moscow and Bamako have previously said that Russian forces are not Wagner mercenaries but trainers who help local troops with equipment bought from Russia.
The mercenaries have been blamed for human rights abuses including an incident in March 2022 in Moura, in central Mali, where local troops and suspected Russian fighters allegedly killed hundreds of civilians.