After becoming clear that the private Russian military firm Wager Group - whose founder has direct ties to President Putin - is helping to lead the major offensive in the Soledar and Bakhmut areas in eastern Ukraine, the Biden administration on Friday unveiled new sanctions against the group.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Friday announced Wagner is now designated a "significant Transnational Criminal Organization" which allows the US to block its access to any US-produced items or technology. It further leaves open the potential for US Commerce to go after its foreign assets as a legally dubbed criminal enterprise. "It will broaden the network of nations and institutions that will be able to stop doing business with Wagner," Kirby said of the new action at a White House press briefing.
And in an interesting twist, the White House says it has evidence that Wagner is being directly supplied by North Korea. While the Russia-Pyongyang connection has been raised by the US since the summer, this is the first time the US administration has sought to present anything in the way of evidence.
Kirby presented to reporters what he said is photographic evidence of rail cars traveling from Russian to North Korea on November 18. He alleged that shipping containers were loaded with weaponry or ammo and were sent back to Russia the next day.
"We do expect that it will continue to receive North Korean weapon systems," Kirby asserted. "We obviously condemn North Korea’s actions and we urge North Korea to cease these deliveries to Wagner immediately and we are going further by taking action against Wagner itself."
The White House further said it will work with the UN Security Council to enforce violations against Wagner, and further took the information on Pyongyang's ties to Wagner to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee. Kirby previewed that more sanctions are coming next week.
Russia and North Korea share a small sliver of border, a little over 10 miles long:
"There are around 50,000 Wagner Group fighters currently deployed to Ukraine, according to Kirby, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts," CNN reported after the briefing.
Kirby additionally pointed out that "Wagner is becoming a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries." He highlighted Russian defense officials' expressions of reservations about Wagner's tactics like recruiting from Russian prisons, and in return promising freedom based on months in action in Ukraine.