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The Guardian: "We are ready to face a threat from Moscow or Minsk" - NATO does not write off Prigozhin

28-6-2023 |

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg has said the alliance is ready to defend itself against any threat from “Moscow or Minsk” and has increased its military presence on its eastern flank in recent days after Belarus welcomed Wagner rebel leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

“It’s too early to make any final judgment about the consequences of the fact that Prigozhin has moved to Belarus and most likely also some of his forces will also be located to Belarus,” Stoltenberg told reporters.

“What is absolutely clear is that we have sent a clear message to Moscow and to Minsk that Nato is there to protect every ally and every inch of Nato territory,” he said after a meeting in The Hague of eight Nato leaders.

Stoltenberg said Nato would agree to strengthen its defences at a key summit of all 31 Nato members on 11 July in Vilnius, Lithuania, in order to protect all members, especially those that border Belarus.

“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 defence with more high-readiness forces and more capabilities at the upcoming summit,” he said.

Nato responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 by deploying multinational battlegroups in Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. They complement another four deployed in 2017 in the three Baltic states and Poland, to expand Nato’s presence from the Baltics to the Black Sea. On Monday, Germany said that it stands ready to permanently base forces in Lithuania, if needed.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda warned of the risk of Wagner fighters being based in Belarus. “If Wagner deploys its serial killers in Belarus, all neighbouring countries face even greater danger of instability,” he said.

Polish president Andrzej Duda said: “This is really serious and very concerning, and we have to make very strong decisions. It requires a very, very tough answer of Nato.”

Mercenary boss Prigozhin arrived in Belarus on Tuesday, after a dramatic weekend revolt by Wagner fighters, in what was the most serious threat to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s rule to date. Putin said Wagner’s fighters would also be offered the choice of relocating there.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, who hosted the dinner, rejected Putin’s claims that the west wanted Russians to kill each other. “I refute what Putin suggested yesterday that we in the west want Russia to descend into domestic chaos – on the contrary, instability in Russia creates instability in Europe,” he said.

Stoltenberg added that the west “must not underestimate Russia” despite the chaos at the weekend that had likely deepened divisions. He said it was crucial to keep supporting Ukraine against Russia’s invasion and that Nato allies would thrash out a path to Kyiv’s membership of the alliance.

On Monday, Stoltenberg said he would call an urgent meeting in the coming days to try to overcome Turkish objections to Sweden joining the military alliance, in a last-ditch effort to have the Nordic country standing alongside the allies at the July summit in Lithuania.

Source: The Guardian