Wagner's close presence increases provocation risk - Lithuanian president

  • 2023-07-31
  • LETA/BNS/TBT Staff

MEDININKAI - The presence of the Russian mercenary group Wagner in Belarus close to the Lithuanian border poses a serious threat, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda says.

"From the very first reports that Wagner could be deployed in Belarus, I immediately said that we cannot rule out such a threat, even if the main scenarios might be different, or even if we are being led to believe that the scenarios are different and that Wagner groups might be heading for Africa or some other places. It's really too tempting not to use one's presence here, close to our border, for various provocations," the president reporters on Monday in Medininkai, close to the Belarusian border.

"That's why I think the threat is serious," he said.

On the other hand, Nauseda insisted that there were no signs or signals that such provocations were being prepared.

"We don't have any such indications today, but Wagner's mere presence in the vicinity... These provocations could be organized both against Poland and Lithuania, and, of course, there's another country that shares a border with Belarus, Latvia," the president said.

His comment followed the Polish prime minister's statement at the weekend that more than 100 mercenaries approached the Suwalki corridor. Mateusz Morawiecki also said the situation was becoming even more dangerous and that this was a step towards a further hybrid attack on Polish territory.

Lithuanian and Polish officials have said that their countries would be ready to close the border with Belarus in case of serious border incidents.

However, Lithuanian Interior Vice Minister Arnoldas Abramavicius says there's no need for this now.

"If the situation deteriorated, a regional solution would be needed, and we are ready for that, but there's no need to talk about it today," the politician said in Medininkai on Monday.

For his part, Laurynas Kasciunas, chairman of the Lithuanian parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defense, says that with its existing combat power, Wagner mercenaries in Belarus "do not pose a military, conventional threat".

"Yes, it's an additional risk factor, it will depend on further scenarios, how they will be armed and on their mandate to act," he said while attending the commemoration of the Medininkai massacre anniversary with other politicians.

However, he stressed that the scenarios of a hybrid threat "are being discussed and have been prepared for".

Kasciunas also linked the statements by Polish officials to the country's upcoming parliamentary election.

"One more thing, don't forget, Poland gears up for an election. You can draw your own conclusions," he said.

Speaking about to the Wagner movement in Belarus, the CNSD chair said one also should take into account the location of the bases and units of the Belarusian army that's being trained by mercenaries.

"The Belarusian army, unlike the various structures of the Belarusian interior system, the security structures, has never been well-funded. It's not Lukashenko's strong link. He is using the opportunity to carry out this type of training," Kasciunas said.

"When we look, for example, where 100-200 Wagner (mercenaries - BNS) are going in Belarus, whether we record it or somebody tells us about it, let's not forget that there's a Belarusian army camp, a base, somewhere where they are going and they are training," Kasciunas said.

"Let's not forget that when analyzing where they are moving to," he added.

Wagner mercenaries started moving to Belarus after their failed mutiny in Russia in June after authoritarian Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko allegedly helped to end this and allowed mercenaries to come to Belarus.