The U.S. Treasury said Thursday it has sanctioned a key member of the Wagner Group, the private militia that has had an increasingly influential role in the war in Ukraine.
In a statement, Treasury officials said the move targets Ivan Aleksandrovich Maslov and blocked all of his property and holdings in the U.S. Maslov is a Russian national and is allegedly based in Mali, Africa, heading up the militia’s operations in that country.
The Treasury says those operations include trafficking war equipment into Ukraine, where the Wagner Group is operating as a private militia in support of Russia’s invasion.
The Treasury statement says that the group may be using Mali as a third country to route equipment purchased from foreign suppliers to Ukraine, including mines, unmanned aerial vehicles, radar and counterbattery systems.
According to the statement, the group is willing to use false paperwork to cover its tracks and may also be using other countries where it has a “foothold” to traffic weapons.
The Wagner Group has had an increasingly significant role in the Ukraine war, including on the frontlines of Bakhmut, which has been one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has come to rely on the group to help Russian forces in the war given domestic anger over conscription and the group’s willingness to recruit prisoners.
The Wagner Group is believed to operate around the world, including in Africa and Syria, and has plundered minerals and diamonds to fund its efforts.
The Treasury says that the group has been especially disruptive in Africa, most recently supplying Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces with surface-to-air missiles to fight Sudan’s army.
The group has been accused of serious criminal activity in the Central African Republic and Mali, including mass executions, rape, child abductions and other physical abuse, in addition to the allegations against them in Ukraine.
“Treasury’s sanctions against the most senior Wagner Group representative in Mali identify and disrupt a key operative supporting the group’s global activities,” said Brian E. Nelson, under secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, in a statement.
“The Wagner Group’s presence on the African continent is a destabilizing force for any country that allows for the deployment of the group’s resources into their sovereign territory.”
According to the Treasury, Maslov has been working closely with the Malian government and has also allegedly set up meetings between Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, Wagner’s outspoken leader, and government officials from several African countries.
The group’s leaders have previously been sanctioned by the U.S., the U.K., the E.U., and Canada and the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control labelled the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization in January.