Erik Prince Offered Lethal Services to Sanctioned Russian Mercenary Firm - 2020-04-13
Erik Prince, founder of the private security firm Blackwater and a Trump administration adviser, has sought in recent months to provide military services to a sanctioned Russian mercenary firm in at least two African conflicts, according to three people with knowledge of the efforts. Prince, who is the brother of Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, met earlier this year with a top official of Russia's Wagner Group and offered his mercenary forces to support the firm's operations in Libya and Mozambique, according to two people familiar with Prince's offer. Wagner officials said they are not interested in working with Prince, three people familiar with their decision told The Intercept. A lawyer for Prince denied that his client met anyone from Wagner.
The Wagner Group is a semi-private military force that operates in countries or conflicts where the Russian government seeks plausible deniability for its activities. It is often equipped and supported directly by the Russian Ministry of Defense, according to reports and experts who track Wagner's activities. The U.S. State Department website also lists Wagner as an entity connected to the "Defense Sector of the Government of the Russian Federation." Any business relationship between Prince and Wagner would, in effect, make the influential Trump administration adviser a subcontractor to the Russian military. In recent years, the Russian government has deployed Wagner to several African countries, Ukraine, and Syria, where the U.S. military killed dozens of Wagner fighters in 2018 after the Russians and their Syrian allies attacked an oil facility that the United States was defending. "Wagner Group is an instrument of Russian policy. It works under the GRU, which is the Russian military intelligence," said Sean McFate, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a former military contractor who has written about mercenaries.
In attempting to do business with Wagner, Prince may have exposed himself to legal liability.