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US sanctions UAE-based aviation firm with ties to Russia’s Wagner

Washington says UAE-based Kratol Aviation helped Wagner operations ship personnel and weapons to Libya, the Central African Republic and Mali.
Visitors wearing military camouflage stand at the entrance of the 'PMC Wagner Centre', associated with the founder of the Wagner private military group (PMC) Yevgeny Prigozhin, during the official opening of the office block on the National Unity Day, in Saint Petersburg, on November 4, 2022. (Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images)

The Biden administration slapped economic sanctions Thursday on a United Arab Emirates-based aviation company for its alleged role in transporting Russia’s Wagner mercenaries to conflict zones abroad.

“The Wagner Group uses Kratol-provided aircraft to move personnel and equipment between the [Central African Republic], Libya and Mali,” the US Treasury Department announced. Wagner operatives have been accused of war crimes in all three of those countries.

Kratol was targeted “for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, logistical, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, PMC Wagner,” the US statement read.

Al-Monitor reached out to Kratol via WhatsApp, using a phone number provided on the company’s website. The message was seen, but no reply was issued.

The move came amid a slew of other sanctions against Wagner-linked firms and individuals, including Russian defense contractors, alleged Wagner front groups in the Central African Republic and two Russian government officials accused of preparing Moscow’s annexation referendum in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region last year.

On Thursday the Treasury formally labelled Wagner a “significant transnational criminal organization” after the White House announced the move late last week.

Why it matters: The sanctions on UAE-based Kratol are the latest shot across the bow as Washington seeks to cut off Wagner’s ability to operate and source weapons abroad.

“As sanctions and export controls on Russia from our international continue to bite, the Kremlin is desperately searching for arms and support — including through the brutal Wagner group — to continue its unjust war in Ukraine,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in the press release announcing the sanctions.

“Today’s expanded sanctions on Wagner, as well as new sanctions on their associates and other companies enabling the Russian military complex, will further impede Putin’s ability to arm and equip his war machine,” Yellen said.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said last week that the mercenary group, led by President Vladimir Putin's crony Yevgeniy Prigozhin, was emerging as “a rival power center” to Russia’s Defense Ministry amid the war in Ukraine.

Prigozhin has sought to distinguish himself in the eyes of the Kremlin by enlisting tens of thousands of convicts and thrusting them onto the front lines of vicious fighting for control of the key areas of Bakhmut and Soledar in Ukraine’s east, US officials have said.

Know more: In 2020, the US Defense Intelligence Agency divulged in a public report that the UAE had been funding Wagner’s operations in Libya.

Early last year, the Biden administration greenlit a decision by the Paris-based international Financial Action Task Force to greylist the UAE for failing to sufficiently crack down on money laundering on its shores.

Contacted by Al-Monitor, the UAE embassy in Washington was not immediately available for a comment. 

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