The U.S. has accused Russia’s mercenary Wagner group of transferring military equipment to Ukraine via Mali using false paperwork in an effort to obscure its weapons purchases from foreign countries.

State Department Spokesperson, Matthew Miller, said on Monday, May 22: “We have sanctioned a number of entities and individuals across a number of continents that support Wagner’s military operations.

“We have been informed that Wagner is seeking to transit material acquisitions to aid Russia’s war, through Mali, and is willing to use false paperwork for these transactions.”

“In fact, there are indications that Wagner has been attempting to purchase military systems from foreign suppliers and route these weapons through Mali, as a third party.”

The recent strategy by the U.S. to declassify and release intelligence surrounding Russia’s war in Ukraine is intended to better coordinate global action to restrict Moscow’s ability to wage war.

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The administration designated Wagner as a Transnational Criminal Organization, in January, in another attempt to disrupt its global support network and punish it for its part in Russia’s war in Ukraine.

It was revealed by the U.S. in December, that North Korea had shipped rocket-propelled grenades and missiles to Wagner and the April ‘Pentagon leaks’ included a February intelligence report of attempts by the group to buy weapons and equipment in Turkey. 

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Wagner has been active on the African continent for several years, providing Kremlin-approved support to ‘friendly’ regimes and, as in Ukraine, has been accused of shocking atrocities against civilians and prisoners.

Wagner was deployed to Mali in 2021, ostensibly to fight against a jihadist insurgency, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announcing in Sept. 2021 that Russia was providing aid to the Malian government by way of ‘private military contractors.’

Reports continue to surface of Wagner’s attempts to procure equipment, weapons and ammunition including mines, drones, radars, and counter-battery systems for delivery to Mali.

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In November, a company linked to the Wagner owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, purchased 20 thousand helmets from a small Chinese company, the Hangzhou Shinerain Import and Export Co. The Chinese manufacturer claimed that they had been told the helmets were intended for “gaming use,” but it should be noted that the purchase coincided with Prgozhin’s prisons recruitment campaign.

In early December, Reuben Brigety, the U.S. ambassador to South Africa accused the South African government of loading arms and ammunition, destined for Russia, onto a sanctioned Russian cargo vessel, the ‘Lady R’ in the Simon’s Town naval base. There has been speculation that the ship also had links to Wagner.

In February, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine made a pronouncement that PMC Wagner and all other Russian private military companies were terrorist organizations.

However, the Biden administration has resisted calls to take the same steps against Wagner, as it is feared that such a designation would harm U.S. diplomatic efforts to engage with those African countries where the mercenary group is active.

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