Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin addresses his units withdrawing from Bakhmut, the city captured from the Ukrainian Armed Forces, on Thursday, the same day the United States sanctioned the group's leader in Mali. Photo by Press service of Prigozhin/UPI | License Photo
May 26 (UPI) -- The Biden administration has blacklisted a leader of Russian private military company Wagner Group that has been fighting in the Kremlin's war in Ukraine over allegations that they are trying to obscure the acquisition of weapons by funneling them through the African nation of Mali.
Since Russia launched its war against Ukraine in February of 2022, the United States and its allies have been hitting Russia with punitive measures that have not only taken a bite out of its economy but have impacted its ability to make war, including its acquiring and manufacturing of weaponry.
Earlier this week, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters that the sanctioned Wagner group has been working to hide its acquisition of military equipment for use in Ukraine through third countries it has a foothold in -- such as Mali, which Miller said was willing to use false paperwork for the transactions.
"There are indications that Wagner has been attempting to purchase military systems from foreign suppliers and route these weapons through Mali as a third party," he said during the press conference, adding that they haven't seen anything to state any acquisitions have been finalized.
On Thursday, the Treasury sanctioned Ivan Aleksandrovich Maslov, the 40-year-old head of Wagner paramilitary units and its principal Mali administrator.
Treasury officials identified the weaponry Wagner Group employees have been attempting to acquire through Mali as mines, unmanned aerial vehicles, radar and counter-battery systems.
The Wagner Group has also been committing destabilizing activities in the continent, committing widespread human rights abuses and appropriating natural resources, the department said, adding that it most recently has been supplying surface-to-air missiles to Sudan's Rapid Support Forces, which has been in a bloody conflict with Sudan's military since April 15.
"Treasury's sanctions against the most senior Wagner Group representative in Mali identify and disrupt a key operative supporting the group's global activities," Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial intelligence Brian Nelson said in a statement.
The sanctions against Maslov -- which freeze all of his U.S. assets and block U.S. persons from doing business with him -- were announced as part of punitive measures announced by the Biden administration to hold those responsible for the March 2022 slaughter of 500 people during a five-day, anti-terrorist military operation in the south-central Mali town of Moura.
Earlier this month, a United Nations Human Rights Office fact-finding report said there were "strong indications" that the vast majority of those killed were summarily executed by Malian troops and foreign military personnel, including from the Wagner Group.
The United States issued a statement following the publication of the report on May 15, saying it was "appalled by the disregard for human life."
On Thursday, the State Department imposed visa restrictions against Col. Moustaph Sangare and Maj. Lassine Togola for being responsible for elements of the Milan Armed Forces that conduction the operation.
"Mali's ongoing partnership with the Wagner Group is worsening its security situation and prolonging human suffering. Wagner's reported use of Mali as an intermediary to provide weapons to its fighters in Ukraine further shows the extent to which the group will pursue its broader financial and political aims," Miller said in a statement that announced the measures.
"We remain committed to supporting the people of Mali and call for the protection of and respect for human rights and a return to civilian-led democratic governance. We will continue to promote justice and accountability for human rights violations and abuses in Mali."