In response to the deployment of Russia’s Wagner mercenary force to Belarus, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has affirmed the readiness of the Western military alliance to defend itself against any potential threats. Concerns have been raised that the relocation of this private army could lead to instability for NATO’s Eastern European members.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner, reportedly arrived in Belarus on Tuesday through a deal negotiated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. This arrangement narrowly averted a situation where the mercenaries planned to march on Moscow after a mutiny against Russia’s military leaders.
Following a meeting in The Hague with NATO’s Stoltenberg and government leaders from six other NATO allies, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda emphasized the increased danger of instability faced by neighbouring countries if Wagner deploys its mercenaries in Belarus. Polish President Andrzej Duda expressed hope that the threat posed by Wagner to NATO would be addressed during an upcoming summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11-12.
Stoltenberg acknowledged that it is premature to determine the full implications of Wagner’s presence in Belarus for NATO allies. However, he affirmed the military alliance’s commitment to safeguarding “every ally, every inch of NATO territory” from threats originating from either Moscow or Minsk.
Stoltenberg also stated that NATO has already bolstered its military presence in the eastern part of the alliance and will continue making decisions to further strengthen collective defence through the deployment of high-readiness forces and enhanced capabilities at the upcoming summit.
Since Saturday, there have been no sightings of Prigozhin, who waved to well-wishers from a vehicle in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, which was briefly occupied by his fighters. On Tuesday morning, a private jet, believed to belong to Prigozhin, departed from Rostov and landed at an airbase southwest of the Belarusian capital, Minsk, according to FlightRadar24 data.
NATO remains steadfast in its commitment to address the potential implications of Wagner’s presence in Belarus and take robust measures to ensure the security of its member states and territories.
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Putin Asserts Authority in the Aftermath of Prigozhin’s Mutiny
Following the internal turmoil caused by Prigozhin’s mutiny against Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s supporters have been adamant that his leadership has not been weakened by the revolt. They emphasize that Russian officials are actively working to move past the crisis, as evidenced by the FSB intelligence service dropping all criminal charges against Wagner fighters.
To reinforce his authority, Putin has expressed gratitude towards regular Russian troops for their role in averting a potential civil war. He has portrayed the recent events as a victory for the Russian army. Addressing troops from various defence and security agencies gathered in a Kremlin courtyard on Tuesday, Putin commended them for effectively halting a civil war. He acknowledged their loyalty to the people of Russia and the military oath, followed by a minute of silence to honour the airmen who were shot down and killed by Wagner forces during the unrest.
In a separate meeting with defence officials, Putin publicly acknowledged for the first time that the Wagner Group is entirely funded by the Russian federal budget, despite operating as an independent mercenary force. He further disclosed that since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow has allocated 86.262 billion rubles (approximately $1 billion) in salaries to the group.
Image source:- https://www.politico.eu/
Moscow has confirmed ongoing preparations for Wagner fighters who remain in Ukraine, estimated to be around 25,000 according to Prigozhin, to surrender their heavy weapons to Russia’s military.
As the situation develops, Putin aims to assert his authority and restore stability in the aftermath of Prigozhin’s mutiny. The Russian government emphasizes its commitment to addressing the challenges posed by the Wagner Group and ensuring a smooth transition for fighters still in Ukraine under the guidance of the country’s military.
Lukashenko Seeks Collaboration with Wagner Mercenaries while Putin Attempts to Undermine Prigozhin
During a discussion with military officials on Tuesday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko revealed that he had urged Russian President Vladimir Putin not to eliminate the rebellious mercenary leader, Prigozhin.
Lukashenko’s statement, as reported by state media, conveyed his readiness to eliminate Prigozhin if necessary but advised against it, demonstrating a delicate balancing act in dealing with the situation.
Lukashenko also expressed his belief that the Belarusian military can benefit greatly from the expertise of the Wagner mercenaries. According to the Belarusian news agency Belta, Lukashenko acknowledged that Wagner fighters were at the forefront of the attacking forces and emphasized their potential to provide valuable insights on effective weapons, tactics, and strategies employed during the conflict in Ukraine.
Reports suggest that the Wagner fighters are currently stationed in their bases in the Russian-occupied Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine. Lukashenko stated that if the mercenaries desired, Belarus would be willing to accommodate them, recognizing their potential interest in exploring alternative locations.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington, DC-based think tank, noted that Russian-language opposition media had reported Belarus’s construction of military camps to house the Wagner fighters. Additionally, a base capable of accommodating up to 8,000 fighters was reportedly under construction in Belarus’s Mogilev region, around 200km (124 miles) east of Minsk.
The ISW cautioned that Belarus might not provide a secure sanctuary for the Wagner fighters if Putin decides to renege on his commitment to not prosecute them for mutiny. The think tank expressed concerns that Belarus could be used as a trap by the Kremlin, as Putin may consider the Wagner Group personnel who follow Prigozhin to Belarus as traitors, regardless of immediate action taken against them.
ISW highlighted Putin’s efforts to undermine Prigozhin’s reputation among his fighters and within Russian society. The Russian leader, it noted, is likely hesitant to eliminate Prigozhin directly, as it could martyrize him at this stage. Instead, the Kremlin is expected to continue attacking Prigozhin’s character to erode his popular support, discourage Wagner personnel from joining him in Belarus, and undermine his financial power.
As developments unfold, the delicate dynamics between Lukashenko, Putin, and the Wagner mercenaries will continue to shape the situation in the region, with potential ramifications for Belarus, Russia, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.