A senior US ambassador on Thursday expressed strong concern over the activities of Russian private military contractor Wagner Group and its alleged recruitment of soldiers in Serbia and elsewhere in the world.
US State Department Counselor Derek Cholet said he had expressed these concerns during a meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade.
“I have seen the Wagner Group trying to recruit soldiers from Serbia and elsewhere, but I think it is intolerable,” he told reporters after the meeting.
“I don’t know if there are concerns [in Serbia]we have spoken out about our concerns and look forward to working with the government here in Belgrade and elsewhere where Wagner operates to end their activities,” he added.
The Wagner Group, owned by Russian oligarch Evgeny Prigozhin, has reportedly worked with governments on pro-Russian propaganda and other military and political projects in dozens of mostly African states. Are active.
The group boasts a presence in Serbia. Serbia is the only European country, other than Belarus, that has not joined international sanctions against Russia in its war with Ukraine. The group reportedly announced it would open an office in Belgrade, which was later denied.
Moscow-based propaganda portal RT, which recently launched a Serbian-language online news site in Serbia, said Wagner had published a recruitment ad to recruit fighters in Ukraine, saying the group offered “attractive” incentives. rice field.
Cholet said the Wagner Group “operates in horrific ways around the world, whether in Libya, the Central African Republic, or now Ukraine.”
The group, which reportedly includes a large contingent of conscripted inmates in Russian prisons, spearheads attacks in eastern Ukraine, including heavy fighting in Soledar and Bakhmut.
Prigogine and his group have been under U.S. sanctions for years, and the U.S. recently took additional steps to try and control access to Wagner’s weapons.
Wagner Group mercenaries have also been accused by Western countries and UN experts of committing numerous human rights abuses across Africa, including in the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali. Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Anthony Brinken announced that he had designated the Wagner Group an “organization of particular concern” for its activities in the Central African Republic.
Sholet also urged Serbia to introduce sanctions against its traditional Slavic ally Russia.
“We believe countries should sign sanctions because Russia’s actions should not only be condemned, they should be punished,” he said. “Russia is prosecuting a brutal and unjust war against Ukraine every day. We need to unite to make it clear that this action is unacceptable.”
The U.S. envoy began a tour of several Balkan countries this week with a visit focused on international efforts to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia after weeks of escalating tensions. The former Serbian province declared her independence in 2008, but Serbia and Russia do not recognize it.