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EU Sanctions to Target Russian Mercenaries

FILE - A landmine is exploded during Turkish demining operations in an area south of Tripoli, Libya, June 15, 2020. The U.S. military has accused mercenaries of the Russian state-backed Wagner group of laying landmines and other explosive devices in Libya.

The European Union will on Monday impose a package of sanctions on targets linked to the Russian private military contractor Wagner, accused of stirring trouble in various conflicts.

Foreign ministers from EU member states will meet in Brussels next week and endorse a list of individuals and firms to hit with asset freezes and visa bans, diplomats said.

Wagner personnel have been identified carrying out operations in several conflict zones, including Russia's neighbor Ukraine, war-torn Syria and several restive African countries.

France in particular has been pressing its EU partners to act, arguing that Wagner's inroads into Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic have had a destabilizing effect.

Russia's government denies any link to the group, which has been compared to similar US private military outfits, such as the notorious former Blackwater group.

But French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has called them "a company of Russian mercenaries which makes war by proxy on Russia's account" and added: "Even if Russia denies it, nobody is fooled".

European diplomats said the bloc would make use of several existing sanctions regimes in order to add names of Wagner-linked personnel and firms to target lists.

They said the list would also be a warning to countries tempted to hire Wagner units, such as Mali, a former French colony where European troops are fighting Islamist insurgents.