The Home Office announced that it will introduce a draft order in parliament on Wednesday to proscribe Wagner, a Russian private military company, as a terrorist organisation.
Wagner, which was formerly headed by the deceased Yevgeny Prigozhin, is accused of conducting covert operations for the Kremlin in Syria and Africa, as well as helping Russia seize Bakhmut from Ukraine in the ongoing conflict.
The order, if approved, will ban membership and support of Wagner, and will allow the authorities to confiscate its assets as terrorist property. The order will also impose harsh penalties of up to 14 years in prison for certain proscription offences.
Home secretary Suella Braverman called the group a “violent and destructive organisation which has acted as a military tool of Vladimir Putin’s Russia overseas”.
“While Putin’s regime decides what to do with the monster it created, Wagner’s continuing destabilising activities only continue to serve the Kremlin’s political goals,” she said in a statement.
“They are terrorists, plain and simple – and this proscription order makes that clear in UK law. Wagner has been involved in looting, torture and barbarous murders. Its operations in Ukraine, the Middle East and Africa are a threat to global security,” the home secretary said.
“That is why we are proscribing this terrorist organisation and continuing to aid Ukraine wherever we can in its fight against Russia.”
The group, which is allegedly funded by a close associate of President Vladimir Putin, has been accused of committing human rights abuses and violating international law in several conflict zones, such as Syria, Libya and the Central African Republic. The group will join other outlawed organisations, such as the Islamic State, al-Qaida and National Action, a neo-Nazi group.
The decision to proscribe Wagner was made after assessing the nature and scale of its activities and the threat it poses to British nationals abroad, the Home Office said. The move was expected since May, when a government source said the legal case against the group was being prepared.
The proscription comes after a controversy involving Prigozhin, the alleged patron of Wagner, who managed to use UK lawyers to sue a British journalist who exposed his activities, despite being under UK sanctions. The Treasury launched an internal review of its process for issuing licences for legal fees and said it would make changes to prevent the sanctions regime from being manipulated and to ensure ministerial accountability.
Wagner’s future as Russia’s unofficial armed wing is uncertain after Prigozhin died in a plane crash in August, two months after he staged a failed coup attempt against Russia’s military leadership, challenging Putin’s authority in an unprecedented way.