The founder of the private mercenary group Wagner has made the audacious claim that his band of killers—bulked up with murderers, rapists and other convicts sprung from prison—have done nothing in Ukraine that would deserve to be sanctioned.
In a comment to the Wall Street Journal for an article about sanctions, the group responded “on behalf of Evgeny Viktorovich,” referring to founder Evgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin, “We conducted an internal check on the crimes of PMC Wagner, but did not find anything discrediting.”
The message then suggested that if proof of the well-documented atrocities exist, they should be published. “Therefore, if someone has information about the crimes of the Wagner PMC, please send it to our press service or publish it in the media,” the statement says. “So that we can help our American colleagues form their position.”
On Thursday, the United States designated the Wagner group, a “significant transnational criminal organization” for its work on behalf of Russian president Vladimir Putin. “Wagner is a criminal organization that is committing widespread atrocities and human rights abuses, and we will work relentlessly to identify, disrupt, expose, and target those who are assisting Wagner,” John Kirby, with the White House National Security Council said.
The sanctions come as rumors surface that the Kremlin has warned Prigozhin of fears he may be assassinated, raising eyebrows about whether that is an indirect threat from Putin himself. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Kremlin, instead said threats are coming from Kyiv, not Moscow.
The assassination claims stem from a supposed request by Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky to the CIA to off the Wagner boss. “One of the requests Zelensky made [during a meeting with the CIA director] was the murder of the Wagner boss, Mr. Prigozhin,” Vladimir Rogov, a Russian general in charge of a large swath of territory Russia occupies in Ukraine, told Russian media.