NATO members Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are demanding Belarus expel Wagner fighters who went to the country after Yevgeny Prigozhin’s short-lived mutiny in June.
“We have asked the regime [of Belarusian President Alexander] Lukashenko to immediately expel the Wagner group from Belarus,” said Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski after a meeting with his counterparts from the Baltic states.
According to AFP, Lukashenko has said Belarus will host 10,000 members of the Russian mercenary force. “Thousands, some of whom are criminals freed from Russian prisons in return for a promise to fight in Ukraine, are deeply demoralized and accused of crimes against humanity,” said Kaminski.
The demand for Minsk to expel Wagner fighters comes as tensions are soaring between Belarus and its NATO neighbors, making the area a potential flashpoint for a conflict between Russia and NATO. Estonia is the only country to attend the meeting that does not share a border with Belarus.
Poland has ordered the deployment of up to 10,000 troops to the Belarusian border and warned Wagner was preparing “provocations.” The buildup began in response to Wagner’s presence and also over migrant crossings, which Belarus’ neighbors blame on Minsk.
The NATO nations also asked Belarus to “immediately send illegal migrants from the border region back to their home countries.”
Amid the tensions, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that he would treat an attack on Belarus as an attack on Russia. Lukashenko has threatened to use Russian nuclear weapons that were recently deployed to Belarus in response to “aggression” from NATO.