US sanctions gold companies suspected of supporting Wagner mercenaries in Russia

The United States moved on Tuesday to punish companies accused of doing business with the infamous Russian mercenary army known as the Wagner Group, following the group’s insurrection attempt within Russia’s borders.

The move is not thought to be specifically related to the coup, however, instead being a response to Wagner’s participation in some of the bloodiest fighting taking place within Ukraine, where Russian forces launched a full-scale invasion last year.

A statement from the Treasury Department faulted companies in Africa and the Middle East for participating in a gold-selling scheme in violation of US sanctions to fund the Wagner Group’s ongoing activities. One executive at Wagner, Andrey Nikolayevich Ivanov, was also slapped with individual sanctions on his financial dealings.

“The targeted entities in the Central African Republic (CAR), United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Russia have engaged in illicit gold dealings to fund the Wagner Group to sustain and expand its armed forces, including in Ukraine and Africa, while the targeted individual has been central to activities of Wagner Group units in Mali,” reads Treasury’s press release.

The companies are even accused of working with rebel militant groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) as part of the operation. Consequently, an inter-agency task force has issued an advisory highlighting risks for participants in the African gold trade.

“Treasury’s sanctions disrupt key actors in the Wagner Group’s financial network and international structure,” added Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson in a statement.

“The Wagner Group funds its brutal operations in part by exploiting natural resources in countries like the Central African Republic and Mali. The United States will continue to target the Wagner Group’s revenue streams to degrade its expansion and violence in Africa, Ukraine, and anywhere else,” he said.

Wagner Group’s prominence exploded over the weekend after the mercenary soldiers ripped through Russia and seized control of a major city, Rostov, where much of the country’s defence sector is centred. The lightning-fast coup ended as quickly as it began, with leader Yevgeny Prigozhin apparently accepting a deal negotiated by the president of Belarus which saw him exiled to that country. In exchange, participants in the insurrection were granted immunity deals — and other, unknown concessions were thought by many to have been extended to Mr Prigozhin as well.

It’s unclear what the insurrection means for the future of Wagner, however, given Mr Prigozhin’s apparent banishment and the souring of his ties with Russia’s leader.

Many of the private army’s troops are still deployed in Ukraine, where they are engaged in some of the fiercest combat taking place across the country’s southeast.