Wagner: why Belarus?
After the aborted advance on Moscow, the mercenaries of the Wagner organisation have been given the choice between joining the regular Russian army or following their leader Yevgeny Progozhin to Belarus. The uprising is said to have ended also thanks to the mediation of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenka. Commentators discuss the implications of Wagner’s relocation.
More room to manoeuvre for the instinctive politician
For El País, Lukashenka is the big winner of the Wagner revolt:
“The best nose in Europe. This is undoubtedly a quality of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka, a politician endowed with a formidable survival instinct. The Belarusian leader is now resuming the role of mediator he already played in the past. ... Lukashenka pursued his serpentine policy until the crackdown after the 2020 presidential elections. ... The Belarusian leader accepted the Kremlin’s conditions and supported its invasion of Ukraine. Prigozhin has now given him more room to manoeuvre. And we will see whether the Wagner forces will reorient their energy and actions and put them at the service of Belarus.”
Lukashenka sees the soldiers as a threat
Novaya Gazeta Europe sees no place for Wagner in Belarus — and points to the arrest of 32 Wagner mercenaries who were deemed potential insurgents there during the crisis in the summer of 2020:
“Three years later, when Prigozhin became the Kremlin’s main adversary overnight and made headlines around the world, Lukashenka hastened to speak of his long-standing acquaintance with him. So we should not be convinced by the claims that Prigozhin’s entire mercenary troops will now come to Belarus. If Lukashenka was so afraid of 30 people, he would rather cut off one of his hands than accept this lawless host on his own territory. Prigozhin himself though — no problem.”
Impunity and empowerment
Both sides in the conflict have something to gain from the option for Wagner fighters to serve in Belarus, Mediafax says:
“The rebellion has ended with a win-win situation. The Wagner mercenaries will not be prosecuted and will continue to serve for pay — but now with a regular contract with the army, i.e. as subordinates of [Defence Minister] Shoigu and [Chief of the Russian General Staff] Gerasimov. But the majority of them will go to Belarus, where they are to train local military forces, reinforce the defences on the border with Poland and guard the nuclear weapons that Russia is stationing there. ... Thousands of Wagner mercenaries will now effectively be working for Lukashenka.”
Worse than Russian nuclear weapons
The presence of the Wagner units in Poland’s neighbour to the east is extremely worrying for Rzeczpospolita:
“The stationing in Belarus of ten thousand Prigozhin mercenaries, armed to the teeth, who occupied the city of Rostov-on-Don with its millions of inhabitants within just a few hours, would be bad news. Worse than the stationing of tactical nuclear weapons there. The Belarusian dictator would be given a force he could use to suppress protests or unrest without involving his own security forces. Moreover, this would be a new tool for the regime in its relations with its ‘hostile’ neighbours.”