The Wagner Group situation over the weekend is purely an internal Russian problem, but one that U.S. leaders must monitor, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said at a news conference today.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, participated in a briefing Saturday morning with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other national security officials. They discussed the situation in Russia.
“Throughout the day on Saturday, Secretary Austin received regular updates from senior civilian and military officials at the Pentagon,” Ryder said. “He also actively engaged key allies and partners to share information on the developments taking place in Russia.”
The secretary made it clear that the U.S. was not involved “and that we would not get involved in these events,” Ryder said. “During his calls, Secretary Austin also reiterated that support by the United States for Ukraine will not change. And that remains our focus.”
A concrete example of this is DOD’s announcement of the latest tranche of security assistance to Ukraine. This is the 41st instance of presidential drawdown authority to support the embattled country. The United States will transfer capabilities to support Ukraine’s air defense requirements, additional armored vehicles, more anti-armor systems, munitions and other equipment valued up to $500 million.
Ryder did not say what effect the Wagner security situation had on the battle against Russia in Ukraine. “The war there continues, Russia’s illegal occupation continues,” Ryder said. “We are not going to lose sight of those facts. And we’re going to continue to work closely with them to provide them with the kinds of capabilities that they need to execute the operation that they planned, and that they’re conducting.”
The Wagner group is also active in the Middle East and Africa, and Ryder said it is a very dangerous organization. “Wherever they operate, they bring with them death, destruction, deceit, criminal activity,” Ryder said. “This is why the United States has designated them as a transnational criminal organization, and the U.S. government has imposed significant sanctions on Wagner actors and facilitators to include Africa.”
What the security situation will mean in Africa and the Middle East, “time will tell,” the press secretary said. “I don’t have an answer to that question right now. But again, the key point … here … is that Wagner has been a significant and dangerous actor for a while.”