New sanctions against individuals and entities related to the Wagner Group, along with forceful statements, signal a new offensive against the private military contractor.
On Wednesday, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) said that it has clear evidence that Russia’s state-linked Wagner Group laid landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in and around Tripoli.
It noted that Moscow further violated the United Nations arms embargo and endangered the lives of civilians and people of Libya.
"Verified photographic evidence shows indiscriminately placed booby-traps and minefields around the outskirts of Tripoli down to Sirte since mid-June. These weapons are assessed to have been introduced into Libya by the Wagner Group."
The operations director of command, General Bradford Gering, also said the contractor is demonstrating a disregard for the safety and security of Libyans, and that they are prolonging conflict. They are, as a result, responsible for the needless suffering and the deaths of innocent civilians, adding that Russia has the power to stop them, "just not the will.”
AFRICOM said; "Russia’s introduction of landmines, booby traps, attack aircraft, and their continued support of the 2000-person strong Wagner Group in Libya changes the nature of the current conflict and intensifies the potential risk to non-combatants."
On the other hand, the command’s director of intelligence, Heidi Berg, said that their intelligence reflects continued and unhelpful involvement by Russia and the Wagner Group, whose reckless use of landmines and booby-traps are harming innocent civilians.
Following AFRICOM’s statement, on Wednesday, the US sanctioned three individuals and five entities that have links to the Russian mercenary group.
The Wagner Group has been instrumental in helping Russia achieve its military goals in Ukraine, Sudan, Syria and Libya.
The Wagner Group
According to several reports, the Wagner Group is linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The group's presence was first reported in eastern Ukraine, where its mercenaries fought alongside pro-Russian forces who had revolted against the Eurocentric government of Ukraine.
Led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, also known as a former ‘Hotdog Seller’ and ‘Putin’s Chef’ for having catering contracts with the Kremlin, the Wagner Group has earned notoriety for being a proxy front for Putin's wars in the Middle East and Europe.
Wagner started deploying soldiers to the front lines of the Libyan war in 2019. This also happened during Russia’s decisive military intervention in Syria, where hundreds of Wagner’s mercenaries were reportedly killed during clashes with US forces.
Prigozhin is already under American sanctions - the US Treasury Department said in a statement that the new actions target previously non-sanctioned entities who aid him. In addition, they accuse two businesses and two individuals of suppressing and discrediting democratic demonstrators in Sudan.
“Yevgeniy Prigozhin and his network are exploiting Sudan’s natural resources for personal gain and spreading malign influence around the globe,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States remains committed to holding him and other bad actors accountable so Sudan and other countries can operate freely.”
Among the businesses under suspicion are M Invest, which the Treasury said is operating as a company front for the Wagner Group's operations in Sudan owned by Prigozhin, as well as its Sudan subsidiary, Meroe Gold, and two individuals the US said are key to their operations.
Also sanctioned are Hong Kong and Thailand-based Shine Dragon Group Limited, Shen Yang Jing Cheng Machinery Imp & Exp. Co., and Zhe Jiang Jiayi Small Commodities Trade Company Limited. The companies helped Prigozhin carry out transactions exceeding $7.5 million, say the department.
According to recent reports, more than 2,000 mercenaries from Wagner are present in Libya, fighting on the side of warlord Khalifa Haftar.
Previously, the US Assistant Secretary for the Affairs of the Near East, David Schenker, stated that the US was to work with European countries to place sanctions on Wagner, citing “the spectre of large-scale civilian killings" by the Wagner Group.