Alleging that the Wagner Group threatens religious freedom in the Central African Republic, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday designated the Russian private military company in the same category as Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), Al-Qaeda branches, and the Taliban.
Blinken declared Wagner an “entity of particular concern,” putting it on the same list as IS affiliates in western and northern Africa, the Nusrat al-Islam militants in Mali, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, Somalia’s al-Shabab, the Houthis of Yemen, as well as the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – the rebranded Al-Qaeda anti-government militants in Syria – and the Taliban of Afghanistan.
“Our announcement of these designations is in keeping with our values and interests to protect national security and to advance human rights around the globe,” said Blinken. “Countries that effectively safeguard this and other human rights are more peaceful, stable, prosperous and more reliable partners of the US than those that do not.”
The designation is based on the International Religious Freedom Act, a US law passed in 1998 that created a special office at the State Department. It follows media rumors that the US might designate Wagner as a terrorist organization, a measure suggested as a form of ‘lawfare’ against Moscow in the conflict over Ukraine.
In addition to these groups, Blinken listed Myanmar, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as “countries of particular concern” for religious freedom, while Algeria, CAR, Comoros, and Vietnam were placed on a “special watch list.”
Notably absent from the State Department list was Ukraine, even after the government in Kiev raided the most prominent Orthodox monastery, charged several clergymen with sympathies for Russia, and moved to ban the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church – linked to the Moscow Patriarchate – in favor of the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine.