- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 11, 2023

The founder of the Kremlin-backed mercenary outfit, the Wagner Group, has announced the opening of dozens of recruiting centers throughout Russia.

Yevgeny Prigozhin is aiming to sign on new fighters at recruitment facilities opened in 42 Russian cities in a bid to overcome Ukraine’s staunch resistance to the invading forces.

“Despite the colossal resistance of the Ukrainian armed forces, we will move forward,” Mr. Prigozhin said in a statement on Friday announcing the new recruiting measures.

The U.S. estimates that Mr. Prigozhin is spending more than $100 million per month on operations in Ukraine.

In September, videos began to surface online showing Mr. Prigozhin promising Russian convicts release from prison in exchange for combat tours in Ukraine.

The White House assessed in December that the group has 50,000 mercenaries deployed to Ukraine, 40,000 of whom are convicts.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby has accused the Wagner Group of receiving weapons from North Korea to be used by its mercenaries on the battlefield in Ukraine.

The Treasury Department last month labeled the Wagner Group a “transnational criminal organization,” for a long list of human rights abuses in conflicts around the globe. Officials say the group acts as a military arm of the Kremlin in far-flung clashes throughout Ukraine, Mali, Sudan and the Central African Republic.

A bipartisan group of senators reinvigorated calls last month to designate the Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization in a bid to further escalate the U.S. crackdown on the private military group.

The Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries Act, led by Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, and Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republican, aims to hold the paramilitary group accountable for human rights abuses in Ukraine by requiring the State Department to apply the designation to any entity associated with the Wagner Group.

Other sponsors include Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat; Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat; Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republican; Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat; and Marco Rubio, Florida Republican.

The lawmakers backing the legislation say the designation would signal to the Kremlin that the U.S. intends to hold Russia accountable for its war long after the dust has settled in Ukraine.

Lawmakers introduced a similar version of the bill that did not receive passage before the end of the last Congress.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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