U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced last week the Holding Russian Mercenaries (HARM) Act to designate the Russian-based PMC Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization.
The bill – which also has a companion measure in the House led by U.S. Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Richard Hudson (R-NC), and Marc Veasey (D-TX) – would require the designation to be initiated by the U.S. Secretary of State within 90 days of enactment in response to the mercenary organization’s actions in Ukraine. The group’s exact constitution is unknown, but it is thought to employ thousands of mercenaries, largely as a private military institution for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In addition to the war in Ukraine, the PMC has also operated in Syria, Mali, Sudan, and the Central African Republic. It has been accused of threats and murder against journalists, the abduction of children, sexual violence and trafficking, torture, and the use of chemical nerve agents.
“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, 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.”
The legislation would build on existing sanctions of the Wagner group and its military leader, originally initiated in 2017. Further, the European Parliament recently declared Russia a state sponsor of terrorism and denounced the Wagner Group in particular.
“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,” Cohen, co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, said.
The Helsinki Commission is an independent U.S. government agency created by Congress in 1975 to monitor and encourage compliance with the Helsinki Final Act and similar Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe commitments.
The bill would also include stipulations to keep the Wagner Group and its members from escaping designation, adding that the FTO designation would be heaped on any affiliated or successor entity to the PMC Wagner Group.