US warns African countries of Wagner Group amid recruitment of prisoners to fight in Ukraine

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  • Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner Group, has made fun of the US sanctions against his group.
  • Part of the sanctions is on people actively involved in recruiting Africans in Russian prisons.
  • One of the Wagner Group's sanctioned companies is in Central African Republic.

The US has warned African countries, which work with the controversial Wagner Group in Russia's war on Ukraine, "do not end up in a stronger position".

Last week, it sanctioned people and entities linked to the Russian paramilitary outfit for their role in recruiting prisoners, some of them African, to fight in Ukraine.

In response, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, provoked US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen with a letter, proposing to open a branch in the US.

While the letter seemed somewhat of a troll by Progozhin, the US is serious about sanctioning what it called "our goal to degrade Moscow's capacity to wage war against Ukraine".

"The [state] department is also designating, under E O 14024, three individuals for their roles as heads of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service, which has been reported to facilitate the recruitment of Russian prisoners into the Wagner Group," said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

READ | Yellen warns against violating Russia sanctions during SA stop of Africa Tour

So far, a Zambian student jailed in Russia, Lemekhani Nyirenda, died in battle in September. Russian officials only informed Zambian authorities in November.

A Tanzanian student, Nemes Tarimo, was buried at the weekend in Dar es Salaam.

Mourners were told of how the Wagner Group recruited him from prison with the promise of payment and commuting his seven-year term. He was jailed for an undisclosed offence.

Many African countries have not directly condemned Russia for recruiting their nationals to fight in Ukraine. Only Tanzania has officially warned its nationals from fighting foreign wars.

Russia's foreign affairs minister, Sergey Lavrov, visited several African nations, including South Africa, Angola, and Eritrea, as he sought to firm up support as his country's war in Ukraine continues. 

Speaking at a White House briefing on Friday, Vedant Patel, the US State Department's principal deputy spokesperson, said African countries working with the Wagner Group were compromising regional peace and security.

"Countries that deepen their cooperation with the Wagner Group do not end up in a stronger position. And in fact, it's quite the opposite; countries that partner closely with Prigozhin and the Wagner Group find themselves susceptible to deeply destabilising activities, activities that are destabilising to not just their own country but also the region more broadly," he added.

US sanctions against the Wagner Group also cover five entities that form part of the group's key infrastructure.

These are an aviation firm, a propaganda organisation, and Wagner front companies.

These entities are in the Central African Republic, China, Luxembourg, and the United Arab Emirates.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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