Just after the weekend of chaos in southern Russia due to the short-lived Wagner march on Moscow, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, mused before reporters in Lithuania: "I think what we’re seeing in Russia over the last days demonstrates the fragility of the [Russian] regime, and, of course, it is a demonstration of weakness." He further claimed, "We see the weakness of the Russian regime and it also demonstrates how difficult and dangerous it is for President Putin."
In follow-up, on Wednesday Stoltenberg and other NATO officials commented on the presence of Wagner Group in Belarus, following its founder and chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, having landed in Minsk in his private jet on Tuesday. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had teased the possibility of Wagner Group being activated inside his territory, in support of Belarusian armed forces.
Both Stoltenberg and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda have responded to these reports, expressing alarm over "instability" in the region, and threat of attacks from mercenaries.
"If Wagner deploys its serial killers in Belarus, all neighboring countries face even bigger danger of instability," the Lithuanian president said.
Stoltenberg agreed there's reason to be alarmed, though he said it's "too early" to say what Wagner in Belarus could mean for NATO, but reaffirmed the alliance will protect "every ally, every inch of NATO territory" against threats from either "Moscow or Minsk."
"We have already increased our military presence in the eastern part of the alliance and we will make further decisions to further strengthen our collective defense with more high-readiness forces and more capabilities at the upcoming summit," Stoltenberg said.
The major NATO summit, where Sweden's potential membership will also be high on the agenda, is set to be hosted in Vilnius July 11-12. Germany has meanwhile committed 4,000 more troops to be stationed in Lithuania as part of a combined force.
Polish President Andrzej Duda has expressed that Wagner in Belarus should be a discussion point regarding security on NATO's eastern flank. "This is really serious and very concerning, and we have to make very strong decisions. It requires a very, very tough answer of NATO," Duda said.
Apparently, Lukashenko and Prigozhin have the ‘warmest relationship’ going back years.— Natalka (@NatalkaKyiv) June 28, 2023
This clip is from Lukashenko’s interview to Gordon recorded in 2020. #Lukashenko #Belarus #Russia #Wagner #Prigozhin pic.twitter.com/b5CtOtbDmt
Russia's President Putin in a series of public statements this week confirmed that a deal had been made with Wagner and its now exiled leader: Wagner fighters now have the option of signing a contract with the defense ministry, or "they can go to Belarus," in the president's words.