Concerns Mount Over Belarusian Regime’s Statements on Wagner PMC and Russian Nuclear Weapons Deployment
As the NATO summit in Vilnius approaches, the statements of the Belarusian regime regarding the deployment of Wagner PMC and Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus cause great concern. The ultimate goal is opaque; however, Lukashenka is prepared to use the “Wagnerites” and nuclear weapons in the event of aggression against Belarus and Russia.
The main topic of conversation between Warsaw and Washington is the evolving threat from Belarus arising from Wagner PMC, allegations of deployment of nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory, and complicity in Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Lukashenka claims that neither Yevgeny Prigozhin nor the “Wagnerites” are in Belarus, and the subject of the redeployment of PMCs to Belarus has not yet been resolved. The Wagnerites were offered several former military camps, including one near Asipovichy, but they had a “different vision”. The Asipovichy camp was allegedly built for territorial defence training before Belarus began to dismantle the camps at Aboz-Liasnouski near Baranavichy, “Lepelsky” in the Viciebsk region, and “Repishcha” near Asipovichy, where about 5000 Russian soldiers were stationed and trained.
If the fighters of Wagner PMC are stationed in Belarus, then a legally binding contract will be concluded with the company. The primary condition for being hosted by Belarus is immediate participation in the defence of Belarus in the event of external aggression. Lukashenka also assured that no attacks on Ukraine would be launched from Belarusian territory, but in case of aggression, the “Wagnerites” would defend Belarus alongside the Belarusian army. He sees no risks from “Wagnerites” in Belarus and is not concerned that they may rebel against the authorities.
Polish special services have not yet confirmed the presence of the Wagner PMC in Belarus. Nevertheless, Warsaw is strengthening the Eastern border with 1,000 troops and 200 equipment assets under operation “Safe Podlasie” to demonstrate readiness and ability to “immediately respond to attempts to destabilise the situation on the border.”
About 200 fighters of the Wagner PMC may already be in Belarus at the Lasvida training ground in the Viciebsk region. A large-scale movement to Belarus has not yet been observed, but the movement of Wagnerites from Africa to Russia has been noted. About 500-600 mercenaries from Wagner PMC left Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, and headed for Moscow, but no departures from Mali have been detected.
Poland and Lithuania will call on allies for a joint response to Wagner PMC and nuclear weapons in Belarus at the NATO summit in Vilnius. Warsaw has also warned the EU that Wagner PMC may reinforce Belarusian special services leading to possible provocations at EU borders, especially during the NATO summit.
The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly designated Wagner PMC as a Russian-sponsored terrorist organisation. The OSCE PA strongly condemns the Belarusian authorities for allowing the construction of a military base for the Wagner PMC, posing “a threat to all Baltic countries.” In its declaration, the OSCE calls on all participating States to take action against Wagner PMC and its affiliates, including designation as a terrorist organisation.
Lukashenka announced that most of the (planned) nuclear weapons are already in Belarus, and the rest will be deployed by the end of the year. Apparently, the warheads did not use rail transportation, and the Federation of American Scientists, founded in 1945 and engaged in research in the field of nuclear arms control and nuclear energy, did not find visual evidence of the construction of a nuclear weapons storage facility at military facilities near Asipovichy and Lida. The Ministry of Defence of Belarus did not comment on how Russian nuclear weapons were moved to Belarus and where they are stored.
Lukashenka also declared that Belarus will not attack anyone with nuclear weapons, but a list of targets for nuclear strikes has already been determined. The war in Ukraine will not cause a nuclear strike, although he did not wholly rule out such a possibility to end the war. A more likely scenario may be a NATO invasion of territory threatening Belarus or Russia. The success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive and the prospect of the liberation of Ukrainian territories from Russian troops, including Crimea, meets these conditions.
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Situation in Belarus