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EU Prepares Fresh Sanctions On Russian Mercenary Group

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell

The European Union is planning to draw up a list of possible sanctions against a Russian mercenary group involved in multiple global conflicts, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

After chairing a meeting of EU foreign ministers on November 15, Borrell said experts had been tasked with developing sanctions proposals against the Vagner Group and the issue would be discussed when foreign ministers meet again in December.

"There is consensus to move forward in order to take restrictive measures against this group," Borrell said in Brussels.

Western governments have accused Moscow of using the Vagner Group as a paramilitary force in conflicts in Ukraine, the Middle East, and Africa. Russia denies a link between the government and the Vagner Group.

The Vagner Group is believed to be run by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of President Vladimir Putin. Already last year, the EU blacklisted Prigozhin over the group's involvement in Libya.

The possible sanctions against the Vagner Group come amid reports Mali's military junta was in discussions about deploying its mercenaries in the West African country, something opposed by former colonial power France and its allies.

Borrell said EU foreign ministers had also agreed on sanctions on Mali's military leadership in the wake of their coup in order to apply pressure on the junta to restore civilian rule.

In June, Colonel Assimi Goita was sworn in as president of a transitional government after carrying out his second coup in nine months. Elections are due to be held in February, but the EU fears they will be delayed.

France has been at the forefront of a broader counter-terrorism operation in the Sahel region with about 5,000 troops ever since another coup in Mali in 2012 helped trigger an Islamist insurgency in the north.

But France announced plans earlier this year to reduce that force to 2,500 to 3,000 troops in the coming years, in a move criticized by the Malian military leaders.

There are also United Nations peacekeeping mission and a European Union training program in the West African country.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters at the EU foreign ministers meeting that any sanctions would also be imposed on companies working with the Vagner Group.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters

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