NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that the alliance is prepared to defend itself from any threat posed by Wagner fighters who go to Belarus.
After Yevgeny Prigozhin’s short-lived uprising, Wagner members have the option of signing contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry, traveling to Belarus, or going home. President Alexander Lukashenko has denied rumors that bases are being constructed for Wagner in Belarus but did say he’s willing to “accommodate” the fighters.
At this point, it’s unclear how many Wagner fighters will choose to go to Belarus, where Prigozhin is now living in exile. Poland has estimated that about 8,000 Wagner members will end up in Belarus and said it will beef up security on its border.
Polish President Andrzej Duda wants NATO to discuss the issue at the upcoming summit in Vilnius, which will be held from July 11-12. “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.
Stoltenberg said it’s too early to tell what Wagner’s presence in Belarus will mean for the alliance but vowed NATO will defend “every inch” of its territory from threats in “Moscow or Minsk.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine last year, NATO has increased its presence in member states that border Russia and Ukraine. “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.