The United States will designate the Russian mercenary Wagner Group a «significant transnational criminal organization» and impose further sanctions against the organization and its support network next week, the White House said on Friday.

“These actions recognize the transcontinental threat that Wagner poses, including through his continuing pattern of serious criminal activity,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday.

The United States «will work tirelessly to identify, disrupt, expose and target those who are aiding Wagner,» Kirby said, accusing him of «committing widespread atrocities and human rights abuses.»

Kirby also said the White House would release declassified images of Russian railcars receiving North Korean shipments in November. He said the United States believes it was a delivery of infantry rockets and missiles for use by the Wagner Group.

Kirby said the United States did not believe the amount of material delivered to Wagner would change the dynamics of the battlefield in Ukraine. «We hope that it will continue to receive weapons systems from North Korea,» he said.

He added that the arms transfers defied United Nations Security Council resolutions.

In December, the Biden administration designated Wagner as a military end user, making it difficult for him to buy equipment based on American technology or production.

The Wagner Group is headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The millionaire former restaurateur earned the nickname «Putin’s chef» for attending state events.

Yevgeny Prigozhin at the funeral of Wagner group wrestler Dmitry Menshikov, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, last month.Aleksey Smagin/Sipa USA via AP File

The group has provided assistance to the Russian military during conflicts in Syria and Libya, and has recruited former prisoners as soldiers-for-hire in Russia’s war against Ukraine, promising rewards and pardons in exchange for service.

Despite longstanding ties to the Kremlin, Prigozhin has recently been at loggerheads with the Russian military, which he accused of «consistently trying to steal Wagner’s victory» last week after the country’s defense ministry called for a military victory in Soledar without crediting your company.

At Friday’s news conference, Kirby said intelligence showed divisions between the mercenary group and Moscow had widened, even as Putin increasingly turned to the organization for critical support.

“Wagner is becoming a rival power center for the Russian military and other Russian ministries,” Kirby said, adding that Prigozhin was trying to promote his personal interests in Ukraine and that the Wagner group “is making military decisions to a large extent largely about what they want.” will generate for Prigozhin, in terms of positive publicity».

Kirby estimated that Wagner’s mercenaries currently fighting in the Ukraine consisted of 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts.

When Reuters asked Prigozhin about the new US appointment, he said that Wagner “and the Americans are colleagues. From now on, our relationship can be called “a battle of criminal clans”.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has not commented on the video.

The assessment came after a former Wagner member applied for asylum in Norway last week.

In a video posted Monday, Andrei Medvedev said he had previously commanded a squad of paramilitary forces in eastern Ukraine, where he witnessed the abuse and execution of former prisoners who refused to fight. He said his own contract was forcibly extended.

He said the group «stopped regarding us as people and started treating us practically like cannon fodder» and worried that Wagner would come after him and that he was «in mortal danger.»

He added that he had escaped border patrol dogs and guards’ bullets at the Russian border and ran through a forest and over a frozen lake to escape to Norway.

The Wagner Group did not comment on their allegations.