May 9 (Reuters) – Britain is set to formally classify Russian mercenary force Wagner Group as a terrorist organisation, which would impose financial sanctions and other penalties, as a way of increasing pressure on Russia, The Times newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Wagner mercenaries have spearheaded Russia’s months-long assault on the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
The Home Office has been building a case for two months and proscription was “imminent” within weeks, the newspaper reported, citing a government source.
If enacted, it would be a criminal offence to belong to Wagner, attend its meetings, encourage support for it or carry its logo in public, The Times said.
The designation would also impose financial sanctions on the group, and there would be implications for Wagner’s ability to raise money if any funds went through British financial institutions, the newspaper added.
There has been no evidence that Wagner or individuals linked to the group are operating in Britain since the war in Ukraine started, the report said.
However, there had been “suspicions” the group helped move money out of Britain after financial sanctions were imposed on Russian oligarchs and allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the newspaper said, citing a government source.
Britain’s Home Office said it was looking into the Times report.
Bakhmut has been under Russian attack for more than nine months, with Wagner Group mercenaries leading repeated attempts to advance on what was once a city of 70,000.
The group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said in a social media message on Monday that his troops were beginning to receive ammunition needed to press their advance. Troops had advanced a maximum of 130 metres (400 feet) amid fierce fighting, Prigozhin said.