The White House said Tuesday that Russia’s Wagner mercenary group plans to provide an air defense system to Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants or to Tehran, as part of an “unprecedented defense cooperation” between the two US adversaries.
“Our information… indicates that Wagner, at the direction of the Russian government, was preparing to provide an air defense capability to either Hezbollah or Iran,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
Earlier this month, The Kremlin dismissed the allegations, saying such talk was unfounded.
The Wall Street Journal, quoting unidentified US officials, said earlier this month that Wagner was preparing to supply the Pantsir-S1, a Russian self-propelled anti-aircraft gun and missile system known as SA-22 by NATO.
Wagner, which is funded by the Kremlin, has been brought back into line after a failed mutiny in June that presented the biggest threat to President Vladimir Putin’s two-decade rule.
“We are certainly prepared to use our counterterrorism sanctions authorities against Russian individuals or entities that might make these destabilizing transfers,” Kirby said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “We have already said that, de-facto, such a group (Wagner) does not exist,” when asked about the report, which cited unidentified US officials as saying that US intelligence thinks Wagner plans such a transfer.
“All of these musings are as a rule based on nothing and have no foundation,” Peskov said when asked about the report.
“There are emergency channels of communication between the (Russian and US) militaries, and if there are real concerns about something, they (the Americans) can always convey them to our military.”
Washington has been warning of deepening military relations between Moscow and Tehran — a burgeoning relationship that Kirby described as “obviously harmful to Ukraine, certainly harmful to Iran’s neighbors, quite frankly harmful to the international community.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Choigou paid an official visit to Iran in September, described as an “important step” for military cooperation between the allies.
Both countries are subject to international trade sanctions and have forged close ties in a number of sectors.
Source » alarabiya