The US envoy says the activities of the Russian Wagner Group are intolerable

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – A top US envoy expressed serious concern Thursday about the activities of Russian private military contractor group Wagner and its alleged attempts to recruit soldiers in Serbia and elsewhere in the world.

US State Department advisor Derek Chollet said he had expressed these concerns during his talks in Belgrade with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

He told reporters after the meeting: “We have seen that the Wagner Group is seeking to recruit soldiers from Serbia and elsewhere, and this is something we believe cannot be tolerated.”

He added, “I don’t know if there are concerns (in Serbia), we have spoken about our concerns and look forward to working with the government here in Belgrade and in other places where Wagner is active to put an end to its activities.” .

The Wagner Group, owned by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, has reportedly been active in dozens of mostly African countries, working with governments on pro-Russian propaganda and other military and political projects.

The group boasted of being in Serbia, the only European country besides Belarus that did not join international sanctions against Russia over its war against Ukraine. The group reportedly announced the opening of offices in Belgrade, which was later denied.

Russian propaganda portal RT, which recently launched its own Serbian-language news website in Serbia, published Wagner’s recruitment advertisement to search for fighters in Ukraine, saying the group offers “more than attractive” incentives.

Chollet said the Wagner Group is “working in horrible ways all over the world, whether it’s in Libya or the Central African Republic or now in Ukraine.”

The group, which reportedly includes a large group of convicts conscripted into Russian prisons, has spearheaded attacks in eastern Ukraine, including Fierce battles at Solidar and Bakhmut.

Prigozhin and his group have been under US sanctions for years, and the US recently took additional steps to try to control Wagner’s access to weapons.

Western countries and UN experts have also accused Wagner Group mercenaries of numerous human rights violations across Africa, including in the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali. earlier this month. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that he had designated the Wagner Group as an “Entity of Particular Interest” for its activities in the Central African Republic.

Cholet also urged Serbia to impose sanctions on its traditional Slavic ally, Russia.

He said, “We believe that countries should sign the sanctions, and the reason we believe that is because Russia’s actions should not only be condemned, but punished.” Every day, Russia wages a brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine. We need to stand together, to make sure that this behavior, this behavior is clearly unacceptable.”

The US envoy this week kicked off a tour of several Balkan countries in a visit focused on international efforts to help normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia after weeks of rising tension. The former Serbian province declared independence in 2008, which is not recognized by Serbia and Russia.

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