An MP has warned “Putin’s war dogs” Wagner are running a “network in the shadows” stripping African gold and natural resources to directly fund the war in Ukraine.
Alicia Kearns is chair of the 11-strong Foreign Affairs Committee that became the first under a UK Parliament to commission a report into the operations of a private military company (PMC).
The startling report found that successive Governments had been “remarkably complacent” about the growing use of PMCs by countries around the world, including Russia.
For Wagner, the committee found evidence of a military presence in Syria, the Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan, Libya, Mozambique, Mali, and of course operations in Ukraine.
It concluded the Government needed to take urgent action into monitoring Wagner and other PMCs operating around the world. It also called for Wagner to be listed as a terrorist organisation.
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Speaking to Express.co.uk Mrs Kearns said despite the recent developments of Wagner leadership clashing with Putin they remained the Russian dictator’s “dogs of war” around the world.
She said: “This organisation likes to work in the shadows, that’s changed slightly since the invasion of Ukraine, and it’s also changed since the march on Moscow.
“But ultimately what we need to do is put a spotlight on everything they do, so that more people know exactly the kind of things they get up to.
“They are Putin’s war dogs, they go around the world, and they carry out what Putin wants done, they are his deniable arm.
“They secure influence for Russia in certain countries, and they secure wealth for Russia, but ultimately, it’s not for the Russian people, it’s for the elite and for Putin, Progozhin and other private circles.
“We found seven countries where they’ve been working militarily, a further ten countries where they’ve done so-called ‘election monitoring’, where actually it’s about going in and controlling who votes and who doesn’t.
“There’s a further list of countries, in places like Serbia and Afghanistan where there is evidence of them trying to recruit people and trying to establish a chapter of their organisation in that country.
“They are working across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe, this is not a small insignificant group.”
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The Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton added that the report found clear evidence Wagner operations directly benefited Putin and Russian elites.
In Africa, the focus of Wagner has been to prop up ailing regimes and in some cases affect government change. In the recent coup in Niger in West Africa, crowds were seen waving Russian flags.
The MP continued: “Niger wasn’t top of our list as somewhere where the Wagner group was definitely operating but it’s part of that coup strip and we know that Wagner has significant interests in that strip, because, a) you have regimes desperate to hold onto power, which is what Wagner’s specialism is, and, b) we’ve got significant amounts of critical minerals and wealth ready to be plundered, which is obviously what the Wagner group wants in return for their efforts.
“That’s why we called it guns for gold, it’s really interesting if you look at Sudan, there are tonnes of gold that can’t be accounted for and it looks like it’s turned up in Russia.
“We called the report ‘Guns for Gold’ because essentially that’s it exactly, it’s not money they’re taking it’s the mineral itself.
“Everything from timber, all the way through to diamonds, to gold, and other critical minerals, so they (Wagner) are actually taking ownership of a lot of mines because they know the critical minerals are really helpful to essentially take control of.
“There’s no question that Wagner activity in Africa enables Putin to continue with his war, there’s no question the Kremlin benefits wherever Wagner is operating.”
Ms Kearns said there was a lack of understanding at the UK Government level about the nature of Wagner’s activities in Africa and elsewhere.
She continued that an office in Europe looking at the activities was not even “full-time” working on the Wagner group.
Ms Kearns said: “Nobody, not a single person across government, is working exclusively on either the Wagner network, or what I would prefer to see, somebody working full-time looking at private military companies.
“That’s what we need to have, and they should be sat within the cabinet office, within the intelligence assessment units that we have there, and they should be mapping this out.
“Wagner has been operating since 2014, this isn’t some new entity, and we know that everywhere they go, they breed corruption, they help hold up failing regimes, they strip wealth and leave behind them a stream of human rights atrocities that they’ve committed.
“When I was elected, I convinced the Government to set up a conflict unit in the cabinet office and their job is to pre-empt and predict where there is going to be conflict and look at the early warning signs.
“There should be someone in that team whose sole job is looking at private military companies (PMCs), because Wagner are not the only one.
“You’ve got Sadat, which is the Turkish, the Emiratis have got some, obviously way back when there was Blackwater, the American one in Iraq. PMCs are not new, I think the Rwandan government are going to try and sell their peacekeeping forces as a private military force.
“To me, this is a growth industry and therefore we need somebody working across Government monitoring this and seeing what our response is going to be, and where we see what they are doing is going to cause us problems. That is what is currently lacking.
Ms Kearns said the Government will respond formally in September to the report from the committee, adding “we are the first Parliament to do a report on this (PMCs), we are also the first report to commission independent research to prove they operate in all these countries”.
The committee has also recommended a list of people it said need to be sanctioned by the UK.
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