Joe Wilson, others file bill to name Russian para-military company as terrorist group

Dec. 9—U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers want to name a para-military organization close to Russian President Vladamir Putin as a foreign terrorist organization.

Wilson, a Republican whose district includes Aiken and Barnwell counties and the Columbia suburbs; Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C.; and Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas; introduced the Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries (HARM) Act which would require Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to designate the Russian-based PMC Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization.

The Wagner Group, also known as PMC Wagner and ChVK Wagner, has been described as a private military company, a mercenary network or Putin’s private army. It has been involved in operations in Ukraine in the 2014-15 war and the 2022 invasion, Syria, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Madagascar, Libya, Venezuela, Mozambique and Mali. There are also reports of involvement in Belarus, Burkina Faso and the breakaway region of Armenia known as Nagorno-Karabakh.

“For too long the Wagner Group has been engaging in nefarious atrocities around the globe, all at the behest of war criminal Putin and his cronies,” Wilson said in a news release. “I’m grateful to join my bipartisan, bicameral colleagues in introducing legislation that will finally designate the group as the foreign terrorist organization it is and expose them in their true state as a murderous and criminal enterprise.”

The bill requires Blinken to designate the Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization within 90 days of passage. It also makes the designation applicable to any successors or affiliates of the group.

Organizations that have been designated foreign terrorist organizations face three major penalties: making it illegal for United States residents or people subject to its jurisdiction to provide support, preventing non-resident members of the group from visiting the United States and requiring financial institutions with the group’s money to keep it and report it to the Treasury Department.

If passed, the bill would be the latest U.S. action against the group.

The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned the Wagner Group and its military leader, Dmitry Utkin. On Sept. 20, 2018, the Department of State added founder Yevgeniy Prigozhin and his affiliated entities to the list of persons identified as part of, or operating for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation under section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.