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Wagner is set to be considered a terrorist group in the UK. What does that actually mean?

Members of the Wagner Group military company sit atop of a tank on a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Saturday, June 24, 2023.
Members of the Wagner Group military company sit atop of a tank on a street in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Saturday, June 24, 2023. Copyright AP Photo, File
Copyright AP Photo, File
By Giulia Carbonaro
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Experts are doubtful that the labelling would have a strong impact on Wagner - though they agree on the political and cultural importance of the UK’s decision.


Wagner, Russia’s infamous mercenary group, is set to be declared a “terrorist” organisation in the UK, as announced last week by the country’s Home Office - meaning that support for the group will become illegal.

“Wagner is a violent and destructive organisation which has acted as a military tool of Vladimir Putin’s Russia overseas,” said Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

“They are terrorists, plain and simple,” she added.

Anna Meier, Assistant Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham and an expert on terrorism, told Euronews that, while terrorist proscription works a little bit differently in every country, in the UK this would mean that being a member or supporter of Wagner would be illegal, as well as spreading the group’s propaganda and providing financial or other donations.

But the impact of the UK’s decision would go far beyond the criminal penalties.

“Proscription can have a host of other, more political, consequences,” Meier said.

“When the UK proscribed neo-Nazi group National Action in 2016, MPs raised concerns about implications for free speech if more far-right groups were proscribed in the future,” she said.

“It's important to remember that level of violence is one among many criteria for proscription, and political concerns are always more important for these decisions and when they happen,” Meier continued.

In part, the UK’s decision responds to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s request to treat Wagner mercenaries as terrorists, said the Home Office.

“The proscription of Wagner is attracting so much attention in part because this would be the first time that any country, not just the UK, has listed a for-profit company as a terrorist organisation. This action therefore sets an important international precedent regarding whom it is acceptable for governments to consider ‘terrorist’,” she said.

Is there evidence that these policies work?

“Advocates of proscription argue that it can act as a deterrent, preventing people from joining or supporting particular terrorist organisations, or it might be disruptive of terrorist attacks by drawing more attention from security services,” Lee Jarvis, a professor of international politics at the University of East Anglia and an expert on terrorism, told Euronews.

But in short, said Meier, “the evidence is mixed,” over labelling a group as a terrorist organisation is effective in reducing the threat it represents.

“There is some research to suggest that proscription can reduce the frequency of a group’s attacks, though this depends heavily on the degree to which foreign governments cooperate in targeting proscribed groups, as well as how well-organised the group is,” she told Euronews.

“Proscription has also been successful in some cases at hampering groups financially by freezing their accounts and shutting down their cash flows,” she continued. “However, it can also be easy, sometimes laughably easy, for a group to avoid proscription-related penalties by doing something as easy as changing their name - or for members to disband one group only to form another.”

Meier doesn’t personally believe this kind of policy works. “All terrorist proscriptions increase the power of the state to do violence in unpredictable ways, and there is nothing ‘effective’ about that.” she said.

“The UK has already sanctioned Wagner as a transnational criminal organisation, and the primary added leverage proscribing them as ‘terrorist’ offers is the ability for the UK government to criminalise other private actors further down the line under the guise of counterterrorism,” she concluded.

But Jarvis believes that labelling Wagner as a terrorist organisation can also lead to some real results, including heavier legal consequences for supporters and members.

“The big problem here is that there’s very little evidence about what works in countering terrorism, in general,” he said.


What the UK’s decision is going to do is clearly state where the country stands in regards to Wagner and its actions.

For Jarvis, having a list of terrorist organisations is a way for countries to “draw lines between groups and activities which are legitimate and those which aren’t, it’s about demonstrating the inherent difference between us and them.”

A blowback effect

Meier is wary of the actual impact the UK’s decision will have - especially as per what kind of power it will give the British government.

By calling their actions “counterterrorism”, Meier said, governments have cracked down on immigration, denied asylum-seekers refuge, and made it incredibly difficult for humanitarian organisations to work in conflict zones.

“It is not an accident that these policies tend to blow back on migrants and people of colour, even if that was not the stated intention,” Meier said.


“The Wagner Group is a horrible organisation that has done horrible things, but we can recognise that without expanding the UK government’s ability to cause harm.”

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