NATO Member ‘Monitoring’ Wagner Exercise as Russia Eyes Suwałki Hole

NATO member Lithuania is “actively monitoring” the Wagner Group of mercenaries amassing in Belarus, a staunch Russia ally, as tensions simmer over the contentious Suwałki Hole.

“Lithuanian establishments are actively monitoring the processes associated to the Wagner Group,” though they’re thought of an ill-equipped power, a spokesperson for Vilnius’ Protection Ministry instructed Newsweek on Wednesday, responding to a question concerning the safety state of affairs within the Suwałki Hole.

Considerations, specifically amongst NATO’s Japanese European and Baltic states, over the destiny of the Suwałki Hole—a strip of land alongside the Polish and Lithuanian border separating Belarus to the east from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to the west—have grown after Wagner Group mercenaries began to relocate to Belarus in July. Fighters from the paramilitary outfit headed to Belarus following the aborted armed rebel of Wagner troopers that rocked the Kremlin in late June.

A member of Wagner group stands guard exterior the headquarters of the Russian Southern Army District within the metropolis of Rostov-on-Don, on June 24, 2023. “Lithuanian establishments are actively monitoring the processes associated to the Wagner Group,” the Protection Ministry instructed Newsweek.
Stringer/AFP by way of Getty Photos

A Russian lawmaker instructed Moscow-controlled state tv that Wagner forces may very well be in Belarus to grab the Suwałki Hole. This declare couldn’t be independently verified by Newsweek, but when Wagner troops moved into Polish or Lithuanian territory, this is able to possible spark a NATO response below Article 5, which considers an assault on a member as an assault on all different member states.

On Sunday, Polish Protection Minister Mariusz Błaszczak stated Warsaw was creating a brand new navy engineering battalion in a city near the Suwałki Hole. Poland has beforehand stated it was redeploying greater than 1,000 troopers over considerations round Wagner’s presence in Belarus.

In remarks from a dialog between Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed on Sunday, Lukashenko stated Wagner troopers close to the Polish border have been “insisting on going westward” into Warsaw’s territory.

“After the coup, Russian armed forces seized the group’s weapons and heavy gear,” a Lithuanian Protection Ministry spokesperson stated in a press release to Newsweek. “With out heavy weapons and fight armored autos, this group can solely perform very restricted duties.”

The Russian Protection Ministry stated in mid-July that Wagner had handed over greater than 2,000 items of navy gear following the mutiny, in addition to over 2,500 tons of ammunition and 20,000 small arms. This might not be independently verified.

“In our evaluation, the numbers of the group’s members (each whole and people in Belarus) revealed within the Russian and Belarusian media and social networks are inflated,” Lithuania’s Protection Ministry added.

Estimates on simply what number of Wagner fighters are actually stationed in Belarus differ. The unbiased Belarusian Hajun Undertaking, which screens navy exercise in Belarus, stated on Monday that at the very least 3,500 mercenaries had crossed into Belarus, whereas Ukraine’s Border Guard Service put the determine at 5,000 on Saturday.

“The inflated figures and the actual fact that Wagner is stationed in Belarus are simply assaults of the Russian-Belarusian regime’s info battle,” Vilnius stated. “There’s presently no typical navy risk posed by this group to Lithuania—the Wagner Group in Belarus, as it’s now, isn’t a full-fledged fight unit.”

Moscow and Minsk will possible “proceed to use the group for the needs of data warfare,” Lithuania’s Protection Ministry added.

Newsweek has reached out to the Russian and Belarusian overseas ministries for remark by way of e-mail.