NATO will monitor the movement of the Wagner Group paramilitary organization in Belarus to maintain the security of the member states of the alliance, NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.
“I just believe it’s too early to make a final judgment about the consequences of the fact that [Wagner Group head Yevgeny] Prigozhin has moved to Belarus and that, most likely, also some of his forces will also be located in Belarus. It’s too early to say. But we will monitor, and we will ensure that we always are ready to protect and defend every NATO ally, especially those allies which are now, which are border countries to Belarus,” Stoltenberg told a joint news conference with leaders of seven NATO allies after an informal pre-Summit dinner in The Hague.
Stoltenberg added that the issue was addressed at the dinner and demonstrated that “it has been the right decision of NATO … to implement the biggest reinforcement of our collective defenses since the end of the Cold War with battle groups in the eastern part of the alliance.”
The NATO chief said that the recent events in Russia “are internal Russian matters,” adding that Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine “has deeper divisions and created new tensions in Russia.” Stoltenberg said that the alliance should “not underestimate Russia,” noting that it was “more important” that the alliance continues to support Ukraine and strengthen collective defense and deterrence.
He said that all these matters will be discussed at a NATO summit in Vilnius, due from July 11-12.
The situation with Wagner Group in Belarus requires a “very tough answer of NATO,” Polish President Andrzej Duda told the news conference.
“We heard those questions … about Wagner Group in Belarus and the presence of Mister Prigozhin in Belarus. In my opinion, this is a really serious and very concerning problem, and we have discussed it, and we have to make some decisions, very strong decisions. It, in my opinion, requires a very, very, very tough answer of NATO,” Duda said.
He expressed hope that the situation with the group, which troops are allegedly in Belarus, will be discussed at the NATO summit, adding that it would be one of the main topics on the agenda, but questioned whether the alliance would make any decisions on the matter as it is a very complicated process.
The meeting was co-hosted by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and attended by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, Duda and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
Wagner Group seized a Russian army headquarters in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don on Friday night. Prior to that, Prigozhin accused the Russian Defense Ministry of attacking the military group’s field camps. The Russian Defense Ministry rejected the accusation, while the Russian Federal Security Service opened a criminal case against Prigozhin for organizing an armed mutiny. Prigozhin said that the Wagner Group forces were heading to the Russian capital, Moscow.
On Saturday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced that he had been involved in negotiations with Prigozhin, as agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and they had reached an agreement to de-escalate the situation. Prigozhin followed up by saying that the Wagner Group would retreat to base. According to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, the charges against Prigozhin would be dropped and he would be sent to Belarus.