RIGA - The threat to Latvia from the mercenary group Wagner in Belarus is decreasing, NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence Director Janis Sarts said in an interview with the Latvian public television today.
In his opinion, the plane crash with Wagner's leader Yevgeny Prigozhin onboard is 99 percent likely to be the Kremlin's punishment for the attempted mutiny in June. "Most people predicted after the mutiny was stopped that Prigozhin was in a dangerous situation, even though he behaved as if he was in no danger. The downing of the plane was certainly no mere coincidence," said Sarts.
He said that it was difficult to predict at this stage whether and how the future actions of the Wagner militants would develop in the light of the statements made about revenge for Prigozhin's death.
"However, the fact that the Kremlin elite is worried about what the Wagner response move might be is evident. There are speculations that Wagner also has enough supporters in the power structures, and some of them have been dismissed from their posts. Now there will be a period of turbulent uncertainty, which will shake the foundations of power in the Kremlin and also benefit the Ukrainian struggle against Russia," the expert predicted.
In Sarts' view, the specific threat to Latvia from Belarus from the part of Wagner is diminishing, given that it is a mercenary group that does things for money - if they are not paid, they do not do anything special. Still there will be increased pressure of illegal migration on the border with Belarus, which was not directly carried out by Wagner.
The expert underscored that we should not doubt for a moment that Belarus is not implementing migration pressure on its own initiative, while Latvia should prepare itself for the fact that the pressure will increase. "We can expect various threatening statements, but there has probably been no real military threat so far and there will not be any in the near future," concluded Sarts.
According to the US Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and founder Dmitry Utkin reportedly died after Russian forces shot down an aircraft transporting senior Wagner commanders over Tver Oblast.
"It is highly unlikely that members of the Russian military, in particular Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov, would have dealt with Prigozhin without Putin's orders," the think tank's analysts conclude, adding that the entire Russian elite was likely convinced that Prigozhin was still alive after the June mutiny only because of Putin's mercy.
ISW said that the downing of Prigozhin's plane did not happen by accident on 23 August, exactly two months after the start of the mutiny on 23 June.