Erik Prince, founder of the private security company Blackwater and a Trump administration adviser, has recently attempted to cultivate a business relationship with a sanctioned Russian paramilitary organization called the Wagner Group, The Intercept reported on Monday. The Trump administration sanctioned Wagner in 2017 for having “recruited and sent soldiers to fight alongside [Russian-backed] separatists in eastern Ukraine” in 2014. “In my experience, the act of soliciting from a sanctioned party would indeed be an apparent violation,” Brian O’Toole, a former senior sanctions official at the Treasury Department, told The Intercept, adding that offering to do business with Wagner “would seem to be a fairly egregious thing to do.”
Prince, who is Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ brother, reportedly met face to face with a top official at Wagner to offer his mercenary forces in at least two ongoing African conflicts, according to The Intercept. Wagner officials reportedly turned him down. The semi-private Russian mercenary firm has been commissioned by the Russian government in a number of high-conflict areas, including Ukraine, Syria, and several African countries. The U.S. military previously killed dozens of Wagner mercenaries in defending a Syrian oil facility in 2018. “Wagner Group is an instrument of Russian policy. It works under the GRU, which is the Russian military intelligence,” Sean McFate, a former military contractor, told The Intercept.