Press Release

February 15, 2023
Cardin, Wicker, Colleagues Lead Legislation to Designate Wagner Group As a Foreign Terrorist Organization
Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries (HARM) Act Reintroduced in Senate

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin, (D-Md.), and Roger Wicker, (R-Miss.), today announced they have reintroduced the Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries (HARM) Act, bipartisan legislation that would require the Secretary of State to designate the Russian-based Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). Wicker and Cardin were joined by U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham, R-(S.C.), Jeanne Shaheen, D-(N.H.), Thom Tillis, R-(N.C.), Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.), Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.), and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-(R.I.).

“Putin’s unprovoked and illegal war against Ukraine has been made more deadly because of the Wagner Group. These mercenaries have been credibly linked to countless atrocities in Ukraine as well as Syria and across the African continent,” said Senator Cardin, Co-Chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. “The U.S. must step up and immediately designate the Wagner Group as the terrorists they are. It is the best way to hold them and Russia accountable for their human rights violations. We must do all we can to diminish the strength of Putin’s invading forces.”

“Vladimir Putin is a thug who will stop at nothing to win, and the Wagner Group is among his favorite and most vicious tools,” said Senator Wicker, a ranking member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. “The U.S. should call this shadow army what it is: a foreign terrorist organization. We must hold the Wagner Group and any who support these terrorists accountable for the atrocities they have committed across the globe.”

“The Wagner Group is not just a private mercenary group, they are an extension of the Russian military and security apparatus. Our legislation would designate them a Foreign Terrorist Organization and allow the full weight of United States sanctions to be imposed on them.  This is an important designation as it provides the United States even more tools to hold this organization accountable for their heinous behavior. I hope someday the leadership of the Wagner Group will be prosecuted for the acts of terror they commit in Ukraine on a daily basis,” said Senator Graham.

“Vladimir Putin is a murderous dictator who relies on barbaric mercenaries like the Wagner Group to do his bidding. We know Wagner has committed mass atrocities in Ukraine and around the world, including launching campaigns of terror in West Africa and beyond. This continued aggression by Wagner and the Kremlin threatens the security of democracies worldwide, including the United States, and I am committed to ensuring the Kremlin and its mercenary arms are held accountable. I’m glad to join this bipartisan group of lawmakers on legislation that would require the U.S. government to designate the Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization to call these thugs what they are and ensure we have the mechanisms in place to hold them responsible,” said Senator Shaheen.

“Putin continues to wage war in Ukraine, spilling the blood of innocent people and threatening the stability of the rest of the world. We must condemn any organization that aides him in this unprovoked invasion, and The Wagner Group warrants inclusion for its countless inhumane acts and its role in expanding Putin’s army. We cannot turn a blind eye to Russia’s war and we must continue to hold Putin and his allies accountable,” said Senator Tillis.

“A mercenary murderous squad with nine years of Ukrainian blood on its hands, the Wagner Group should be called what it is: a foreign terrorist organization. Officially designating the Wager Group as a foreign terrorist organization will ramp up sanctions against its members and increase the tools available to hold them accountable,” said Senator Blumenthal.

“While the Biden Administration’s recent designation of the Wagner Group as a Transnational Criminal Organization was long overdue, the U.S. must designate this Russian company as a foreign terrorist organization. This bipartisan bill would impose additional measures to hold Wagner accountable for their active support of Putin’s bloody campaigns in Ukraine, Syria and Africa,” said Senator Rubio.

“The Wagner Group has been an accomplice in Putin’s barbaric invasion since the beginning,” said Senator Whitehouse. “This bill will recognize the Wagner Group for what it is: a foreign terrorist organization. We must continue to stand behind Ukraine until it is victorious in this unjust war.”

The Wagner Group is a para-military organization that employs thousands of mercenaries. It has been widely condemned for its work as a private military for Russian President Vladimir Putin, conducting terrorist operations in Ukraine, Mali, Sudan, and the Central African Republic that resulted in the massacre of civilians since 2014.

The Wagner Group has also murdered and threatened journalists, kidnapped children, deployed nerve agents against civilians, committed acts of torture, and engaged in rape and sex trafficking of women and children. Wagner has also taken weapons deliveries from North Korea, a designated State Sponsor of Terrorism.

The senators’ legislation would require the Secretary of State to designate the Wagner Group as a FTO under section 219(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act upon enactment. The proposal also includes provisions that would apply the FTO designation to any affiliated or successor entity to the Wagner Group.

The legislation follows action by the European Parliament that declared Russia a state sponsor of terrorism and specifically called out the Wagner Group for its atrocities.

The Wagner Group has already been the target of U.S. action. On January 26, 2023, the U.S Department of the Treasury Sanctioned Wagner Group as a Transnational Criminal Organization, following an earlier round of sanctions on Wagner Group and its military leader, Dmitry Utkin, on June 20, 2017. On September 20, 2018, the Department of State added Yevgeniy Prigozhin and his affiliated entities, including the Wagner Group, to the list of persons identified as part of, or operating for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation under section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

Click here to view the legislation.