Lawsuit against Russia's Wagner group seeks Ukraine reparations: lawyer

A man wearing a camouflage uniform walks out of PMC Wagner Centre, which is a project implemented by the businessman and founder of the Wagner private military group Yevgeny Prigozhin, during the official opening of the office block in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November 4, 2022. REUTERS/Igor Russak/File Photo

KYIV, Dec 7 (Reuters) - A lawsuit in Britain against Russian private military contractor Wagner could help Ukrainians seek reparations for alleged crimes committed during Russia's invasion, a lawyer whose firm filed the suit said on Wednesday.

Jason McCue, of McCue Jury and Partners, said the lawsuit initiated in Britain's High Court last month on behalf of alleged Wagner victims would target what Kyiv says are the group's global assets, and aim to tie Moscow up in courts.

"Together we can shake and peel this Russian doll until its hidden layers reveal that its treasure is for us to claim and to give to Ukrainians for justice," he told reporters in Kyiv.

Other suits would follow, with the intention of damaging Russian President Vladimir Putin's "war machine", he said.

Wagner representatives could not be reached for comment.

The group, which was originally staffed by veterans of the Russian armed forces, has fought in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic and Mali, among other countries.

It was founded in 2014 after Russia seized and annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and sparked a separatist insurgency in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.

Putin has said the group does not represent the Russian state, but that private military contractors have the right to work anywhere as long as they do not break Russian law.

A senior Ukrainian lawmaker, Halyna Yanchenko, said Kyiv was cooperating with the lawsuit by providing details of alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

Russia has rejected allegations that its troops have committed war crimes in what it calls a "special military operation" it launched in Ukraine in February.

But Yanchenko said a legal victory in London would boost Kyiv's efforts to persuade partners including Washington that Russia should be declared a state sponsor of terrorism, and called for Wagner to be designated a terrorist organisation.

"I think that if certain Western institutions or politicians are afraid to recognise Russia as a sponsor of terrorism, then recognising Wagner as a terrorist organisation, if a concrete argument is there, shouldn't be difficult for them," Yanchenko said during the briefing.

Reporting by Dan Peleschuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Nick Macfie

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