The US Treasury Department will designate the Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group as a “transnational criminal organization," National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby announced Friday.
The Treasury will also impose new sanctions next week against the group and its global allies, the White House said.
“These actions recognize the transcontinental threat that Wagner poses, including through its ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity,” Kirby told reporters at the White House, ahead of the Treasury Department announcement.
Arms from North Korea: Along with the new sanctions, the US has released newly declassified photos of Russian railcars traveling from Russia to North Korea and back in November, in what the US believes was the initial delivery of infantry rockets and missiles for use by Wagner Group in Ukraine.
While the US does not believe the equipment has yet changed battlefield dynamics, it expects more weapons systems deliveries from North Korea to Russia, Kirby said. Russia has also been receiving equipment, including drones, from Iran, as its military supplies have dwindled over the course of the war.
“The arms transfers from (North Korea) are in direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolution,” Kirby said, adding that the US has shared its intelligence with the Security Council’s DPRK sanctions committee panel of experts.
A senior western intelligence official echoed that assessment Friday, telling reporters that the West is “certainly concerned that North Korea might plan to expand and deliver more military equipment or to sustain those deliveries.”
Wagner's role in Ukraine: More broadly, the US assesses that tensions between the Russian Defense Ministry and Wagner are increasing as Russian President Vladimir Putin increasingly relies on Wagner to carry out operations in Ukraine. There are around 50,000 Wagner Group fighters currently deployed to Ukraine, according to Kirby, including 10,000 contractors as 40,000 convicts.
“Wagner is becoming a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries,” Kirby said, and the US has intelligence suggesting that the Russian Defense Ministry “has reservations” about Wagner’s heavy recruitment from Russian prisons.