BRUSSELS — The European Union on Thursday slapped sanctions on a Russian tycoon, who has close ties to President Vladimir Putin and is accused of interfering in a U.S. election, for helping undermine the security of Libya and breaking the U.N. arms embargo on the conflict-torn north African country.
The EU said it imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on Yevgeny Prigozhin, accusing him of being "engaged in and providing support for acts that threaten the peace, security or stability of Libya, including through violations of the UN arms embargo."
It said the Russian businessman has "close links, including financially, to the private military company Wagner Group. In this way, Prigozhin is engaged in and providing support for Wagner Group's activities in Libya, which threaten the country's peace, stability and security."
The EU accuses the Wagner Group of "multiple and repeated breaches of the arms embargo."
Prigozhin was also among a dozen Russians indicted in 2018 by a U.S. grand jury in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, alleging he funded internet trolls involved in interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
U.N. experts say the Wagner group has provided between 800 and 1,200 mercenaries to support the offensive by Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter, whose forces have been trying to take the capital, Tripoli, for over a year.
The panel of experts monitoring sanctions against Libya said in a report that Wagner mercenaries are engaged in specialized military activities, including calling in artillery and air strikes, providing electronic countermeasures expertise and deploying as sniper teams.
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups.
Hifter's offensive is supported by France, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries. The U.N.-supported government in Tripoli is backed by Turkey, which deployed troops and mercenaries to help defend the capital in January, as well as by Italy and Qatar.
Mercenaries, mainly from the Syria battlefield, are fighting on both sides and further complicate the already complex proxy war.