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The federal opposition has called for the Albanese government to list Vladimir Putin’s private army as a terrorist organisation, which would make it a criminal offence to be a member.
Russia’s Wagner Group was at the centre of the nine-month battle for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and has been accused of widespread war crimes, including executions and rape.
Opposition frontbencher James Paterson has called on Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil to consider listing the Wagner Group as a terrorist organisation.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
British media have reported the United Kingdom is days away from announcing a decision to list Wagner as a terror group, while France’s parliament has called on the European Union to do the same. The United States has already designated Wagner as a “significant transnational criminal organisation” and placed sanctions on the mercenary group.
In a letter to Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil, opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson said the government should investigate the listing of Wagner as a terrorist organisation “in light of its complicity in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and extensive track record of abhorrent human rights abuses”.
“The Wagner Group has a shocking history of serious criminal behaviour which includes rapes, killings; violent harassment of journalists aid workers, and members of minority groups; and the possible commissioning of, or complicity in, war crimes committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Paterson wrote.
“I encourage you to seek advice from your department about whether the Wagner Group can be listed as a terrorist organisation under existing legislation, and if it is not possible under the current regime, to introduce the legislative changes required to make this possible.”
Asked whether Wagner would be listed on the terrorist register, a spokesman for O’Neil said: “The government does not comment on whether particular groups are being considered for listing as a terrorist organisation.”
Australian National University College of Law lecturer Anton Moiseienko said there would be no obstacles to designating Wagner as a terrorist organisation under section 102 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code.
“In view of the many credible allegations of Wagner Group’s criminal activities, it is eminently sensible for the attorney-general to conclude that Wagner Group fits that definition,” he said.
Moiseienko said Wagner’s designation would trigger the application of a raft of criminal offences under Australian law. This would include the offences of directing the activities of a terrorist organisation, recruiting for it, being a member, getting funds to or from such an organisation, or associating with it.
Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin says 20,000 of his troops died in the battle for Bakhmut.Credit: Prigozhin Press Service
“These provisions apply to anyone, anywhere in the world, although practically speaking it is unlikely that someone without a connection to Australia would ever be prosecuted in Australian courts,” Moiseienko said.
“I do not see any particular drawbacks to designating Wagner Group as a terrorist organisation.
“The only likely cost that would entail is the compliance burden on banks screening for payments that might be related to Wagner Group, but they are most likely doing so already regardless of formal designation.”
After a brutal nine-month fight, Wagner last week claimed control of Bakhmut and said it was now handing the city over to the Russian army. Ukrainian authorities said they still had control of parts of the city.
Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin last week said Russia’s goal of demilitarising Ukraine had backfired, acknowledged Russian troops had killed civilians and agreed with Western estimates that he has lost more than 20,000 men in the battle for Bakhmut.
Prigozhin said about half of those who died in the eastern Ukrainian city were Russian convicts recruited for the 15-month-old war.
In Australia, the opposition and the Greens have also been calling on the government to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror group.
“There is significant evidence that both the Wagner Group and the IRGC are engaged in terrorist activity, and Australia’s terrorism laws should reflect this reality,” Paterson said.
“Inaction will see Australia lag behind its allies in sending a clear message that we will not tolerate acts of terrorism.”
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