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U.K. bans Russian mercenary group as terrorists, imposes harsh penalties for supporters

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The United Kingdom has officially designated the Wagner Group, a Russian-backed private military company, as a terrorist organization, making it illegal to be a member of or support the group in the U.K. The order came into effect on Friday, September 15, 2023, following approval by Parliament. Anyone found guilty of belonging to or supporting the Wagner Group could face up to 14 years in prison and a fine.

The Wagner Group, which was founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, both close allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been involved in several conflicts around the world, including in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Sudan and Mali. The group has been accused of committing human rights violations, war crimes and atrocities against civilians. The group has also been linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian “troll farm” that interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The U.K. Home Office said in a statement that the Wagner Group poses a threat to the U.K.’s national security and international peace and stability. “The Wagner Group is a brutal and ruthless mercenary outfit that operates at the behest of the Kremlin, undermining democracy and human rights wherever it goes,” the statement said. “By proscribing this group, we are sending a clear message that we will not tolerate their activities and will hold them accountable for their actions.”

The U.K. is not the first country to ban the Wagner Group as a terrorist organization. Estonia, France, Lithuania and Ukraine have also done so, as well as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Prigozhin and other individuals and entities associated with the Wagner Group.

The designation of the Wagner Group as a terrorist organization comes after the death of its founders in a plane crash in Russia’s Tver region in August 2023. The cause of the crash is still under investigation, but some sources have suggested that it was an assassination orchestrated by Putin or his rivals. Prigozhin and Utkin had reportedly become dissatisfied with Putin’s handling of the war in Ukraine and had attempted to stage a coup against him earlier this year.

The fate of the Wagner Group after the death of its leaders is uncertain. Some former fighters have reportedly tried to find new careers, while others have remained loyal to the group’s cause. The group still has tens of thousands of fighters operating in various countries, according to U.S. officials. The U.K.’s decision to ban the group could put more pressure on other countries to follow suit and crack down on its activities.

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