After the failed uprising in Russia and agreeing to withdraw from the military operation in Ukraine, most members of the Wagner private military group have not yet arrived in Belarus, the NATO secretary general said.
Few Wagner members come to Belarus
In an interview with Politico on July 5, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that only a small group of Wagner soldiers had arrived in Belarus. According to him, Wagner forces are still mainly operating in Africa.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko confirmed last week that tycoon Wagner Yevgeny Prigozhin had arrived in the country under an agreement with the Russian government after the failed rebellion on June 24.
Some images leaked on social media recently showed that Wagner appeared to have set up makeshift tents near the town of Asipovichy in the Mogilev region of Belarus. The Belaruski Hajun independent news site, citing sources familiar with the matter, said the camp could hold up to 8,000 people.
This raises concerns that Wagner is preparing to expand its presence in the region, especially in Belarus, which borders Ukraine and several NATO countries. Some analysts even warn that Wagner could pose a new threat to Ukraine’s northern border.
However, the head of NATO said: “We have detected a number of activities in Belarus that appear to be preparing for the reception of Wagner forces, but so far we have not seen many of them there.”
“We are, of course, continuing to monitor the situation in Belarus. What we see is that Wagner forces continue to operate in Africa,” he stressed. The head of the US-led military coalition added that a group of Wagner soldiers are in Ukraine, but not on the front lines.
Even so, he was cautious about Wagner’s next moves. “It is too early to draw any conclusions about the consequences for Wagner following recent developments,” he said.
On June 24, the boss of the private military group Wagner Yevgeny Prigozhin announced that he had brought 25,000 fighters from the Ukrainian battlefield into the Rostov region, southern Russia to carry out “justice march”.
After seizing military facilities in Rostov and moving towards Moscow, Prigozhin suddenly ordered Wagner’s forces to turn around and return to base according to an agreement reached with the Russian government.
The rebellion took place not long after Wagner announced the withdrawal of troops from the Bakhmut battlefield in eastern Ukraine, handing over positions to the Russian Defense Ministry.
Wagner was once seen as the key force that helped Russia gain control of most of Bakhmut, but Wagner’s relationship with the Russian military became increasingly fractured. Prigozhin announced last month that none of Wagner’s members would sign a contract with the Russian Defense Ministry.
Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed on June 27 that Wagner is completely dependent on state support, and that Moscow has spent more than $ 1 billion on the corporation in the past year.
Ukraine’s counter-offensive campaign faces many challenges
In an interview, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg also assessed the counter-attack situation of Ukraine after a month. This campaign has achieved progress, he said, but also faced many challenges.
“Ukraine has made progress, but it has to face fierce fighting. It is challenged by the terrain, the challenge of Russian resistance,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.
NATO leaders believe that, as Ukraine continues to advance, they will continue to make progress on the battlefield. He also called on NATO members to maintain aid to Kiev.
NATO on July 4 decided to extend the term of Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg by one year, until October 1, 2024. Observers assessed that Stoltenberg’s continued tenure helped NATO maintain a stable leadership structure amid a challenging period.