Lukashenka, Wagner Mercenaries, and the Lithuania Threat

PMC Wagner Group

As the number of Wagner mercenaries in Belarus grows, the presidents of Lithuania and Latvia are convinced that the threat they pose is being taken seriously and that a new hotbed of danger has emerged in the vicinity of our countries. The leaders talk about the additional military capabilities being provided and note that Wagner mercenaries are another ingredient in the “cocktail” prepared by the Minsk regime for our region, Vilmantas Venckūnas is writing at the news portal.

This issue was discussed on Wednesday at a meeting of the Presidents of Lithuania and Latvia in Vilnius.

“From the first news that Russian troops are moving to Belarus and establishing themselves there permanently to the news that Wagner mercenaries are moving to Belarus, it seems to me that the regional security situation has definitely worsened. We need to be guided by the latest information on the movement of mercenaries to Belarus, and we should take it seriously.

We need to prepare for all possible scenarios. Our assessment is that the Wagner mercenaries do not yet pose a direct and clear threat to Latvia’s security. However, we cannot rule out the scenario that hybrid actions could be launched against Lithuania and Latvia, which could be used by the Lukashenko regime and exploited similarly to the migrant crisis. Such scenarios are possible and cannot be ruled out,” Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs said after his meeting with Gitanas Nausėda.

“We take this threat seriously”, he added.

Nausėda said that he signed every word of Mr Rinkēvičs.

“This is certainly a deterioration of the security situation in our region. I have said it many times. It does not matter at all what the intentions of the Wagner group are. It is often discussed whether they may be directed one way or the other. It is not essential because plans can change at any time. The mere fact that these groups are in very close proximity to our borders is an additional threat”, said Mr Nausėda.

He welcomed the fact that the threat of Belarus was identified in the text of the communiqué of the NATO Summit in Vilnius.

“This factor will be given appropriate attention,” the President promised.

He said that before Wagner moved to Belarus, the National Defence Council had decided to update the border cover plan and to agree it as soon as possible.

“We are dedicating additional capabilities, both from our army and intelligence, to monitor the situation on the border. We will take additional security measures if we see additional factors emerging or if the number of militants continues to increase on the territory of Belarus,” said Mr Nausėda.

“This is certainly a hotbed of insecurity. Together with other actions of the Belarusian regime, such as the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, aggressive rhetoric, and continued attempts at illegal migration, it creates a cocktail that must be taken seriously, and is being taken seriously,” the head of state stated.

The news portal reminds that more and more information is coming to light about Wagner mercenaries guarding the territory of Belarus. Belarus’ authoritarian President Aliaksandr Lukashenko, who brokered the deal that ended last month’s uprising launched by Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, has said that his country’s army could benefit from the mercenaries’ combat experience.

On 14 July, Belarusian state television showed a video of Wagner trainers training the Belarusian Territorial Defence Forces at a training ground in the Asipovichi district, where Wagner fighters have been offered to relocate.

Last week, a Belarusian Telegram channel claimed that Prigozhin spent the night in a camp near Tsel, some 90 km south-east of Minsk, and uploaded a picture of him in a tent.

On 23 June, in an uprising that lasted less than 24 hours, Prigozhin’s mercenaries entered Rostov-on-Don in the south of Russia, captured the military headquarters without firing a shot and approached the Russian capital in less than 200 kilometres. Mr Prigozhin stated that he was organising a “justice march” aimed at removing the Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu and the Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov, who had demanded that the Wagner soldiers sign contracts with the Ministry of Defence.

“Wagner fighters met little resistance and shot down at least six military helicopters and a command plane, killing at least 10 soldiers. The Wagner boss ordered his troops to return to their camps when the deal was struck. Prigozhin’s fate and the terms of the agreement, which ended the armed rebellion by offering him and his mercenaries amnesty and permission to move to Belarus, remain unclear.

The Belarusian Ministry of Defence has not announced the number of Wagner troops in Belarus. Lukashenko has previously said that Prigozhin and Moscow should take the decision on relocation to Belarus. The Kremlin has refrained from commenting.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that Wagner fighters had to choose between signing contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defence, moving to neighbouring Belarus or leaving the service. Last week, Mr Putin said that he had met Wagner fighters five days after the mutiny and offered them the possibility of continuing to serve in the same unit under the same commander.

These comments by Putin seem to reflect his efforts to secure the loyalty of Wagner mercenaries, one of the most powerful Russian forces in Ukraine, after the mutiny that posed the greatest threat to his 23-year rule.

Last week, the Russian defence ministry announced that Wagner was completing the handover of its weapons to the Russian army, part of an effort by Russian officials to reduce the mercenary threat and also seemingly heralding the end of the mercenary group’s activities on the battlefield in Ukraine, where they have played a key role.

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