The European Union has imposed sanctions on the Russian private military company the Wagner Group, over reported human rights abuses in war zones across the world.
In an official press release by the Council of the EU, it stated that the "Wagner Group has recruited, trained and sent private military operatives to conflict zones around the world to fuel violence, loot natural resources and intimidate civilians in violation of international law, including international human rights law."
The sanctions, which are also being imposed on eight other individuals and three energy companies in Syria, target those "involved in serious human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings, or in destabilising activities in some of the countries they operate in."
Over the past few years, the Wagner Group has been active in a number of countries including Syria, where it assists the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, and Libya, where it assisted the rogue Field Marshall, Khalifa Haftar, against the former Tripoli-based government prior to Haftar's defeat last year. It has also operated in Ukraine and a number of African countries such as the Central African Republic and Mali.
Throughout their operations in those countries, the group has reportedly committed numerous human rights abuses and atrocities against the civilian populations, setting up explosive land mines in Libya and beating, torturing, and burning unarmed men in Syria.
According to the EU's press release, the aim of the sanctions – which consist of travel bans and the freezing of assets – is "to curtail the subversive activities of the Wagner Group. It signals the EU's strong determination to stand up for its interests and values in its neighbourhood and beyond, and to take tangible action against those threatening international peace and security, and breaching international law."
The EU's measures against the mercenary group have long been in the pipeline, with France, in particular, having pressed its fellow members and partners in the bloc to act against it.
Paris's opposition to the Wagner Group comes especially after it undermined the influence of France in Francophone parts of Africa, an example being when Mali invited Wagner mercenaries to the country a few months ago in an attempt to replace French troops fighting anti-government militias and terror groups in the Sahel.
France's Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has previously called the Wagner Group "a company of Russian mercenaries which makes war by proxy on Russia's account," adding that "even if Russia denies it, nobody is fooled."
The Wagner group is reportedly managed and financed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has been branded as "Putin's chef" due to his alleged close ties with Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin is already subject to a number of sanctions by the United States and the EU. Last year, the US also indicated that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also funds the Russian mercenaries.