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Barbaric Russian paramilitary organisations must be put on Australia’s terror list

Jun 12, 2023 | Oved Lobel

Alexey Milchakov, founder of the neo-Nazi Rusich unit that links Wagner and the Russian Imperial Movement
Alexey Milchakov, founder of the neo-Nazi Rusich unit that links Wagner and the Russian Imperial Movement

The Australian – 12 June 2023

 

Shadow minister for home affairs James Paterson recently called on Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil “to seek advice from your department about whether the Wagner Group can be listed as a terrorist organisation under existing legislation”. With reports that the UK is moving towards such a listing, bipartisan legislation circulating in the US congress calling for the same, and a unanimous resolution in the French parliament advocating Wagner be added to the EU terrorism list, now is precisely the time for the Australian government to list Wagner. In addition, the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) should similarly be listed under the Criminal Code.

That both organisations merit listing, and fulfil all legislative requirements for it, is beyond dispute. This is particularly evident in the case of RIM – a globally networked Russian ultranationalist group proscribed as a terrorist entity by the US in 2020 – which trains white supremacists and neo-Nazis in its paramilitary camps. RIM was directly implicated in several bombings in Spain in November and December, acting on behalf of Russian military intelligence. It has fought in, recruited and fundraised for Russia’s war against Ukraine, and is intimately linked to Wagner, including via the latter’s openly neo-Nazi component, Task Force Rusich, which emerged from RIM’s training camps.

Wagner, for its part, is the Kremlin’s tool of implausible deniability for its brutal imperial adventures in Ukraine, as well as in the Middle East and Africa. It has engaged in the most horrific war crimes and atrocities across the world on Moscow’s behalf. Not only does it systematically loot, torture, rape and massacre, but it has also released several horrifying snuff films and images of executions, mutilations and beheadings that would make Islamic State blush.

There have been several reports of Wagner storming hospitals and raping women in maternity wards in the Central African Republic, as well as allegations of its operatives disembowelling women, including pregnant women, in that country. The group has also been responsible for several large-scale massacres in Mali. As an organisation that, at least officially, is not a state entity and employs terrorism to promote and fund Russia’s political goals, Wagner is a terrorist group, pure and simple. This is true even before one gets to reports of Wagner working with al-Qa’ida in Somalia.

Of course, both RIM and Wagner are effectively terrorist organs of the Russian state – not truly independent organisations. But in this, RIM and Wagner are the Russian equivalent of several other groups listed under Australia’s Criminal Code, including Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Hezbollah. The former two are part of an alphabet soup of well-known terrorist fronts created by Pakistan’s security establishment to wage sectarian terrorist campaigns, while the latter is essentially the Lebanese branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Wagner and RIM are completely fair game under Australia’s current terrorism legislation, and there should be no controversy over this as there has been with respect to our listing of the IRGC. The government has refused to designate the IRGC on the questionable grounds that it is a state entity, despite a Senate report in February recommending it should do so, and unprecedented consensus between the Coalition, Greens and teals on the issue.

Thanks to the fiction of their independence maintained by Russia, Wagner and RIM are the lowest of low-hanging fruit for Australian sanctions. They are nationalist and racist, violent extremist organisations engaged in outright terrorism across the world – qualitatively far more dangerous and depraved than the other NRVE groups proscribed by Australia.

Listing Wagner and RIM would not only send a powerful message of support for Ukraine and those in Africa and the Middle East suffering from Russian-sponsored terrorism, but would also help to impede the activities of these groups and their supporters, including in Australia.

Both groups are already included on Australia’s consolidated list, although only Wagner is subject to autonomous Australian sanctions.

The US has already proscribed RIM under terrorism legislation, and there’s no reason for Australia not to follow suit. Inexplicably, however, the US has so far failed to designate Wagner as a terrorist group, though it has sanctioned it as a “transnational criminal organisation”.

This is despite the bipartisan Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries Act to do so, which has been introduced and reintroduced in the US Congress over several months. Yet notwithstanding these technicalities, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin recently labelled Wagner “a horrible terrorist organisation”.

Austin is correct, and Australia is not bound by whatever considerations are underlying the White House’s reluctance. Home Affairs should act quickly on Senator Paterson’s letter and demonstrate that Australia sees these NRVE groups for what they are: murderous, “horrible terrorist organisations”.

Oved Lobel is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

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