Authorities officers from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia demanded on Monday that Belarus expel the Russian mercenary group Wagner from its territory, amid heightened tensions associated to Russia’s conflict in Ukraine.
The 4 international locations — that are all NATO members and, apart from Estonia, share a border with Belarus — mentioned in a assertion that the presence of Wagner fighters posed a risk to their territorial integrity.
Poland and Lithuania already closed a number of border checkpoints in current months, citing safety considerations. Talking at a information convention in Warsaw together with his counterparts from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, Poland’s inside minister, Mariusz Kaminski, mentioned that the 4 international locations would shutter all their border crossings with Belarus “if there’s a important incident.”
The officers’ feedback got here only a day after Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the chief of Wagner, was confirmed lifeless, plunging the mercenary group into an unsure future. The fighters relocated to Belarus after Mr. Prigozhin staged a short-lived mutiny in opposition to Russia’s navy management in June.
Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, supplied exile to Mr. Prigozhin and his forces beneath a deal that ended the riot.
Earlier this month, leaders of Poland and Lithuania warned in opposition to “provocations” and “sabotage actions” by the Wagner forces. And Poland — the place the nationalist governing social gathering, Legislation and Justice, has tried to painting itself as powerful on nationwide safety forward of a common election in October — despatched a further 2,000 troops to bolster its border with Belarus.
The dying of Mr. Prigozhin has solely elevated the uncertainty over the way forward for Wagner, as Western officers say the Kremlin is contemplating methods to deliver it beneath extra direct management whereas retaining its preventing energy.
In current weeks, among the Wagner troops stationed in Belarus — which numbered at the least 4,000, in line with Polish authorities — have been reported to have left the nation over low pay. However their whereabouts have been unclear, elevating considerations amongst Western international locations.
Border tensions with Belarus predate the Ukraine invasion, significantly on the difficulty of migrant crossings, which was talked about within the joint assertion. In 2021, Polish and European authorities accused Mr. Lukashenko of luring migrants from the Center East and Africa with flights and visas after which pushing them into Poland to be able to destabilize the nation and acquire diplomatic leverage. In response, Poland constructed an 18-foot razor-wire-topped wall alongside 115 miles of the border.