U.S. Representative Richard Hudson (R-NC), Chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Committee on Political Affairs and Security, has introduced the Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries (HARM) Act, bipartisan legislation that would require the Secretary of State to designate the Russian-based Wagner Group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Along with Hudson, Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN), Joe Wilson (R-SC), and Marc Veasey (D-TX) are original sponsors of the bill. Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) are original sponsors of companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.
"The Wagner Group is a threat to the interests and security of the United States, our allies, and its partners," said Rep. Hudson. "We must hold those responsible for perpetrating Putin's war against Ukraine and atrocities elsewhere accountable. Designating this mercenary group a Foreign Terrorist Organization will send a strong message to those in Russia and all who seek to do harm across the world."
"Where the Wagner Group operates, atrocities follow. The HARM Act will identify Putin's private mercenary group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and let the world know that its activities are both malign and illegal. It's time to shine some light on this notorious group and give it the detestable reputation it deserves," said Rep. Cohen.
"For too long the Wagner Group has been engaging in nefarious atrocities around the globe, all at the behest of war criminal Putin and his cronies. I'm grateful to join my bipartisan, bicameral colleagues in introducing legislation that will finally designate the group as the foreign terrorist organization it is and expose them in their true state as a murderous and criminal enterprise," said Rep. Wilson.
"Vladimir Putin and his cronies will stop at nothing to accomplish their objectives, including employing mercenaries like the Wagner Group to commit atrocities on their behalf," Sen. Wicker said. "The U.S. should call this shadow army what it is: a foreign terrorist group. We must hold them accountable along with any who support them."
"As Russia's brutal war against Ukraine enters its ninth month, the United States must continue to remove the tools of destruction at its disposal," said Sen. Cardin. "The Wagner Group has been credibly linked to countless atrocities in Ukraine as well as Syria and across the African continent. The U.S. must immediately designate the Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization. Doing so will diminish the strength of the Russian armed forces and help hold human rights violators accountable."
The Wagner Group is a para-military organization that employs thousands of mercenaries. It has been widely recognized for its work as a private military for Russian President Vladimir Putin, conducting terrorist operations in Ukraine, Mali, Sudan, and the Central African Republic that resulted in the massacre of civilians since 2014.
The Wagner Group has also murdered and threatened journalists, kidnapped children, deployed nerve agents against civilians, committed acts of torture, and engaged in rape and sex trafficking of women and children.
This legislation would require the Secretary of State to designate the Wagner Group as a FTO under section 219(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act within 90 days of enactment. The proposal also includes provisions that would apply the FTO designation to any affiliated or successor entity to the PMC Wagner Group.
The legislation follows action by the European Parliament that declared Russia a state sponsor of terrorism and specifically called out the Wagner Group for its atrocities.
The Wagner Group has already been the target of U.S. action. On June 20, 2017, the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned the Wagner Group and its military leader, Dmitry Utkin, pursuant to Executive Order 13660. On September 20, 2018, the Department of State added Yevgeniy Prigozhin and his affiliated entities, including the PMC Wagner Group, to the list of persons identified as part of, or operating for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation under section 231 of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
Hudson, Cohen, Wilson, Veasey, Wicker, and Cardin are all members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, a U.S. government commission that promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America.