(LONDON) — Members of the Wagner Group, a private military company with ties to the Russian government, are now subject to prosecution by British authorities after the United Kingdom declared the group a terrorist organization on Friday.
The Wagner Group was added to the list of proscribed organizations in the U.K., alongside 78 other organizations, more than a week after the order was presented in Parliament, the U.K. Home Office said in a statement.
“This order comes into force with immediate effect and will make belonging to the Wagner Group or actively supporting the group in the UK a criminal offence, with a potential jail sentence of 14 years which can be handed down alongside or in place of a fine,” the Home Office said in a statement.
The Wagner Group, whose name is reportedly a reference to the composer Richard Wagner, beloved by Adolf Hitler, has been involved in several major conflicts including in Ukraine, Mali and Sudan.
The group’s founders, Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, were killed along with eight others in a plane crash in Russia’s Tver region in August, just months after launching a short-lived insurrection against Russian military leadership. The cause of the crash is still under investigation, Russian authorities said.
Prigozhin, a former restauranteur who had close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Utkin, a former Russiian officer, launched Wagner during the 2014 Ukrainian-Russian conflict, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
In 2018, U.S. prosecutors charged Prigozhin for his suspected role in funding the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which the U.S. described as a Russian “troll farm” that sought to use digital campaigns to increase political and social tensions in the U.S.
Wagner had roughly 50,000 members fighting in Ukraine back in January, according to White House spokesman John Kirby.
In June, Prigozhin became vocally frustrated with the Kremlin over the war in Ukraine, and the losses that his troops were facing. He and his troops marched towards Moscow as part of a reported insurrection against Russian military leaders before turning back.
Before his death, Prigozhin allegedly struck a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin where he didn’t face prosecution and was relocated to Belarus, according to the Kremlin.
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