UK government heavily criticized for underestimating Wagner group

By Vasco Cotovio, CNN

London CNN  —  The United Kingdom’s government has been heavily criticized for underestimating Russia’s Wagner private military company (PMC) for nearly a decade, despite it posing a major threat to the country’s interests, in a report by the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee published Wednesday.

“For nearly 10 years, the Government has underplayed and underestimated the Wagner Network’s activities, as well as the security implications of its significant expansion,” the committee says in a report titled “Guns for Gold: the Wagner network exposed.”

One of the issues, the report explains, is that the British government has looked at “Wagner through the prism of Europe,” which the committee sees as a “a significant failing,” given the “geographic spread and the impact of its activities on UK interests further abroad.”

The report said that Wagner’s operations in Ukraine “are not representative of the network’s operations globally,” and adds the PMC had operated in at least seven countries for nearly a decade before the UK began investing greater resources into understanding it in 2022.

“It is deeply regrettable that it took this long, and that the Government continues to give so little focus to countries beyond Ukraine,” the report reads. “This leaves us even less prepared to respond to the evolution of this notoriously shape-shifting network.”

“The Government’s failure to address the Wagner Network leads us to conclude a fundamental lack of knowledge of, and policy on, other malign PMCs,” it adds.

The report goes on to say the UK’s efforts to sanction individuals and entities linked to Wagner are “underwhelming in the extreme,” especially considering similar action taken by the United States and the European Union, which have sanctioned roughly twice as many members of the network as the UK has.

“The Government has not told us anything specific that it is doing to challenge the network’s influence and impunity outside of Ukraine,” the report reads. “We received no evidence of any serious effort by the Government to track the Network’s activities in other countries.”

The report calls on the government to improve its intelligence gathering of Wagner’s operations “in a wider range of countries,” and calls for “faster and harder” sanctions on those linked to the network, going as far as providing a list. It also says the government should “urgently proscribe the Wagner Network as a terrorist organisation,” as well as provide an alternative for countries seeking the PMC’s services.

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