Erik Prince, Donald Trump, and Russian Mercenaries

Erik Prince, founder of the private security firm Blackwater, Trump administration adviser, and brother of Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has sought in recent months to provide military services to a sanctioned Russian mercenary firm in at least two African conflicts, according to three people with knowledge of the efforts, The Intercept reports.

Prince reportedly met earlier this year with a top official of Russia’s Wagner Group and offered his mercenary forces to support the firm’s operations in Libya and Mozambique, according to two people familiar with Prince’s offer.

Wagner officials said they are not interested in working with Prince, three people familiar with their decision told The Intercept, and a lawyer acting for Prince has denied that his client met anyone from Wagner.

The Wagner Group is a Russian-backed paramilitary force that presents itself as a "private military contracting agency".

The Wagner Group often operates in countries or conflicts where the Russian government seeks plausible deniability for its activities. It is often equipped and supported directly by the Russian Ministry of Defense, and is listed by the U.S. State Department website as an entity connected to the “Defense Sector of the Government of the Russian Federation.” Therefore, as The Intercept points out"any business relationship between Prince and Wagner would, in effect, make the influential Trump administration adviser a subcontractor to the Russian military".

PMC Wagner is a private military company that has recruited and sent soldiers to fight alongside separatists in eastern Ukraine. PMC Wagner is being designated for being responsible for or complicit in, or having engaged in, directly or indirectly, actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine.

U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Prince, along with Wagner co-founder Dmitry Utkin, was sanctioned by the U.S.for having “recruited and sent soldiers to fight alongside [Russian-backed] separatists in eastern Ukraine” during the 2014 Russian invasion, in violation of international law.. Utkin is a former lieutenant colonel and brigade commander of a special forces unit which was a part of the GRU, Russian Military Intelligence.

Wagner Group is an instrument of Russian policy. It works under the GRU, which is the Russian military intelligence.

Sean McFate, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

In February 2018 it was widely reported that as many as 300 "contractors" working for Wagner were either killed or injured in Syria when U.S. led coalition forces attacked forces aligned with Moscow’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad near the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor.

Deir Al Zour

The fighters were using Russian tanks, artillery, and mortars to attack a U.S.supported Kurdish opposition outpost located next to a Conoco natural gas plant. U.S. forces engaged the attackers using anti-tank missiles and machine guns, and then called in massive air strikes as the fighters continued their attack.

Wagner Group's casualties included a large number of Russian and pro-Russian veterans who had earlier fought on Moscow’s side in eastern Ukraine.

The current owner of Wagner is reported to be Yevgeny Prigozhin, who grew up in Putin’s home city of Leningrad, and who spent nine years in jail after being convicted of robbery and other crimes before entering the restaurant business. Having managed to ingratiate himself with Vladimir Putin, he was awarded lucrative state contracts to supply food to Russian schoolchildren and the military, earning him the nickname "Putin's chef".

Prigozhin, who was sanctioned by the United States Department of the Treasury in December 2016 for Russia's involvement in the Ukraine conflict, has denied any communication with Wagner.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor and Brussels correspondent of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

Gary's latest book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon

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