Wagner Group put on notice of legal action in landmark case

Today, our firm was requested to give evidence before the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry on ‘The Wagner Group and beyond: proxy Private Military Companies’. Our government is slowly but firmly catching up to the reality and horror of the use by rogue states of nefarious mercenary groups such as Wagner to pursue their—often illegal—foreign policy objectives.

There are times when governments—whether through domestic or international systems, courts, or inter-governmental agencies—are simply too slow or cannot respond adequately to resolve certain global crises and provide justice, let alone to the victims. The current failure of the international community to effectively tackle Putin’s private army, Wagner, and its use of terrorism within his illegal war in Ukraine is a striking example of that. In such instances, the private sector and civil society need to fill the gap; some call this civil society lawfare.

Current failure of the international community to effectively tackle Putin’s private army, Wagner, and its use of terrorism within his illegal war in Ukraine

Whilst giving evidence to the Committee, we announced, as part of a broader civil society lawfare campaign to support the Ukrainian people, that Ukrainian victims had taken the initial step in launching a High Court action against Wagner seeking accountability and reparations. It was a fitting forum, in a historic heartland of democracy, at which to announce a challenge against a group that has no care for the rule of law or humanity. Ukrainians should be saluted for taking this brave stand.

As part of a broader civil society lawfare campaign with a coalition of leading world experts, McCue Jury & Partners, on behalf of courageous Ukrainian victims, served a letter before action on Yevgeny Prigozhin and the group of mercenaries he founded that use Wagner as their nom de guerre.

The legal action is predicated on an unlawful means conspiracy between Prigozhin, Wagner, and Putin’s war machine to terrorise the Ukrainian people. We believe this is the first time in history that a Private Military Company has been sued for its use of terrorism and for a conspiracy with a rogue paymaster state to commit an illegal war. The action has the potential to change fundamentally the way the world addresses the proxy use of such organisations by regimes that seek to distance themselves and hide from their international crimes. Wagner’s use of terrorism to achieve Putin’s goals is borne out through their war crimes, including the use of torture, murder, and rape as weapons of war to terrorise civilian populations into submission.
Only a terrorist organisation such as Wagner would plant explosives around nuclear facilities.

This conflict is one in which the rule of law will play a central role. Not only is Putin’s war in Ukraine an inherently illegal one, but it is also illegal in the way it is being waged—purposely inflicting significant loss and damage on Ukrainian civilians. Wagner are infamous for their brutality and their ability to operate outside of the law, acting as a (as yet undesignated) terrorist organisation and playing an integral part in Putin’s criminal foreign policy. All of Wagner’s operations are shrouded in a deliberate veil of secrecy, which this High Court action will seek to expose.

Wagner are infamous for their brutality and their ability to operate outside of the law

Providing Ukrainian victims with access to justice both before and after the end of the conflict is of fundamental importance. It is a fitting way for the UK to support its friends in Ukraine. This case is initially limited to a small group of claimants and will be funded through crowdfunding. Depending on the extent of the funds the victims can raise to support their action (and its broader civil society lawfare campaign), it could turn into a billion-pound reparations claim once the full mass of potential claimants are joined. The case could then expand beyond Prigozhin and Wagner to include the likes of Putin himself, as well as his kleptocratic cronies who have supported his illegal war. This lawfare claim has the potential to frustrate Prigozhin, Wagner, and Putin’s war machine and provide much-needed reparations-style compensation for those who have suffered so much. There can be no sustainable peace without justice.

In July of this year, the Ukraine Recovery Conference was held in Lugano, Switzerland. During those talks, 58 international delegations discussed reconstruction priorities for Ukraine before making the ‘Lugano Declaration’. Those macro-scale interventions are of course extremely helpful but empirically fall well short of their promises and expectations. This civil society lawfare campaign will help plug that gap in expectations through its class action style litigation, which will complement inter-governmental efforts and ensure reparations are paid (by those responsible) directly to those who have suffered as a result of this appalling conflict.

The wider lawfare project, which includes this case, is developing similar legal actions in the UK and other jurisdictions around the world for Ukrainian victims and against further entities and individuals within the Russian war machine. The campaign intends to launch further action in the UK and the USA before Christmas. More are hoped to follow.

Please donate what you can to support Ukrainian victims, their action, and their campaign crowdjustice.com/case/wagner.

For more information regarding our firm’s involvement in the legal support of the crisis in Ukraine, please click on the link below.