Press Release

July 13, 2023
Cardin-Wicker Legislation to Brand the Wagner Group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization Approved by Senate Foreign Relations Committee

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), and Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), ranking Senate member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, lauded committee approval Thursday of their legislation, the Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries (HARM) Act. Their bipartisan legislation will mandate that the Secretary of State designate the Wagner Group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Other cosponsors of the legislation include Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), as well as Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

“The Wagner Group has committed countless atrocities in Ukraine and around the world. The only way they will be held accountable for their human rights violations will be if the United States and others show there are real consequences for heinous actions,” said Senator Cardin. “Some Wagner Group soldiers may now don different uniforms while committing illegal acts in Ukraine, but the worldwide threat has not subsided. The United States must take the strongest actions possible to limit the reach of the Wagner Group and reduce any advantage they have given to Putin and his illegal war.”

“Putin and his cronies have employed the Wagner Group to commit atrocities on their behalf, and we should call them what they are: a foreign terrorist group,” Senator Wicker said. “We must hold them accountable and show that war crimes have real consequences. Our adversaries are watching to see how we handle this threat.”

The Wagner Group is a para-military organization that employs thousands of mercenaries across Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. 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 Group has also taken weapons deliveries from North Korea, a designated State Sponsor of Terrorism, to use in the invasion of Ukraine.

Despite tough talk after Wagner Group’s Yevgeny Prigozhin and thousands of his mercenaries travelled through the streets of Russia last month, Wagner Group commanders and soldiers continue to act with impunity.  

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 HARM Act 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 primary text of the HARM Act can be downloaded here with one amendment here.