Lithuania should turn to NATO with its neighbours and agree on a scenario for a proper response to possible provocations by the Wagner mercenary group, for fear that the actions of the group, which is regarded as a private group, would be seen as a violation of NATO’s Article 5, MEP Rasa Juknevičienė has said, Rimvydas Paleckis is writing at the lrytas.lt news portal.
In the Lietuvos rytas TV programme “24/7”, former Ministers of National Defence, MEPs Rasa Juknevičienė and Juozas Olekas assessed the threats posed by the Wagner group deployed in Belarus and the possible NATO response.
They will react accordingly
Conservative MEP R.Juknevičienė said during the programme that the presence of Wagner mercenaries in Belarus was not a problem – according to her, if more Wagner troops were to be deployed in the near future, the Lithuanian authorities would have to be prepared for the possible threats.
“I am relatively calm about these things. I see them more as attempts to provoke, to create tension and chaos, to cause anxiety. For what is the NATO Alliance worth if a few thousand mercenaries of the Wagner group – or rather, the Kremlin’s army – they can cause great fear? It would be strange”, said Ms Juknevičienė.
For the time being, according to the MEP, the current situation only creates more work for Lithuanian and Western intelligence.
The positive side
For his part, MEP J.Olekas, a Social Democrat, also saw a positive side to Wagner‘s deployment in Belarus.
According to Mr Olekas, there have been several occasions when there have been significantly more Russian troops in Belarus than there are now, for example, during exercises or before the start of the war in Ukraine.
“On the other hand, if we think that Prigozhin has some independence and can try to protest against the Russian troops, then perhaps this is a kind of deterrence of more Russian troops coming to Belarus. One can also see the positive side of this”, the MEP reflected.
“A thousand people, lightly armed, certainly does not change the situation fundamentally”, he added.
Questions on defence
At the same time, Juknevičienė urged not to see Wagner as a private group.
“Let’s forget about privacy – Prigozhin is not private at all. Putin himself has acknowledged how many billions have been allocated to this structure, which has been a tool of the Kremlin from the very beginning in certain military actions, whether in Africa when they represented Russian interests in the Central African Republic or somewhere in Syria.
Similarly, in Ukraine, they fought as a Kremlin structure in order to deceive the West into believing that they are private here, that ‘we do not know how many terrible things they have done’. In this way, the Kremlin was washing its hands of responsibility”, the MEP stressed.
The same, she said, would apply to possible provocations in Western countries – if the Kremlin organises a provocation, Wagner will carry it out – Prigozhin will not do it alone.
Therefore, according to Ms Juknevičienė, one should be prepared for provocations, possible hybrid attacks, and border infiltration.
However, the MEP stressed the danger that NATO countries might not see Wagner’s actions as Russian and might not react properly.
“We will also need a lot more attention from NATO. It seems to me that NATO is not yet fully experienced in its actions – in its ability to counter hybrid attacks.
We have to be careful because all sorts of evasions can start – whether it is already a violation of Article 5 or not yet, who is this Prigozhin? Anything can happen.
We have to go to NATO with our neighbours to anticipate scenarios. Even if the probability of such a scenario is only a few per cent, we need to be prepared for it”, she assessed.
The number of mercenaries in Belarus is already estimated at 3,450-3,650.
The arrival of the last Wagner convoy was recorded on Sunday, 23 July. In total, at least 10 organised convoys, each consisting of 670-700 pieces of automotive equipment, have arrived from Russian territory since 11 July.
The convoys consisted mainly of UAZ Patriot, Mitsubishi L200, KamAZ and Ural pickup trucks, as well as other buses and vans carrying personnel and construction/engineering equipment.