Vladimir Putin today received Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko at a monastery in Valaam, Russia, as part of a two-day official visit.
The trip marks the end of a two-day “communication” that began on Sunday with negotiations in Strelna. It is the first time they have met since the Wagner Group mutiny in June.
Belarus helped draft the deal that gave Yevgeny Prigozhin’s private military company safe passage after soldiers appeared ready to march on Moscow.
Since then, Belarusian soldiers have been observed training with Wagner Group troops on the Polish border.
Lukashenko, worryingly, told Putin during talks yesterday that the mercenaries were “burning” to march on Poland. “They are asking to go to the West,” he said, telling Putin that they were asking “to go on a trip to Warsaw and Rzeszow.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko visit the Valaam Monastery on Valaam Island in the northern part of Lake Ladoga July 24, 2023
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko visit Valaam Monastery in the Republic of Karelia, Russia, July 24, 2023
Russian President Vladimir Putin (second from left) visits Valaam Monastery in the Republic of Karelia, Russia, July 24, 2023
Lukashenko said to Putin yesterday: “I keep them in central Belarus, as we agreed.” We control what happens. [But] You are in a bad mood.’
He also presented Putin with a map allegedly showing Polish plans to attack Belarus.
Poland recently transferred 1,000 troops to Belarus to increase security.
Warsaw has made significant efforts to strengthen its military in recent years and is now one of the 20 largest world powers according to the GFP Index.
The United States in June approved $15 billion for Patriot and anti-missile defense upgrades for Poland.
Late last year, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called on the country to build an army “so strong that it’s best not to have to fight” to deter the enemy with “sheer strength”.
He announced that over PLN 100 billion (£19.396 billion) would be allocated for army modernization in 2023 alone.
By way of comparison, the UK has earmarked an additional £5 billion for defense spending over the next two years in this year’s spring budget.
The annual defense budget is set to reach £51.7 billion by 2024/2020.
Poland observes that Belarusian troops are also training on the Polish border – now with Wagner troops.
She sees this as a threat.
Russia has also claimed Poland is attempting aggressive pushes east while it builds up its military.
On Friday, Putin said: “Poland’s leaders will likely seek to form a coalition under the umbrella of NATO and join directly the conflict in Ukraine, and then ‘tear off’ a larger part of it and restore what they believe to be historical territory – present-day western Ukraine.”
Poland used to rule much of Central and Eastern Europe as part of a larger polity with Lithuania and including parts of present-day Ukraine.
During a period of crisis in the 18th century, it lost much of its territory and was divided by Russia in 1772, 1792 and 1795, irreparably worsening relations.
While many Poles may regret the new borders introduced by Russia after World War II, there is no serious reason for Poland trying to “retake” former territories like Lviv.
The Polish government has pledged to deploy an engineer battalion nearby to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank and secure the Suwałki Gap.
The gap – a space between Poland and Lithuania separating Belarus from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad – is seen as a vulnerable point because, if bridged, it could cut the Baltic states off from their western allies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (left) attend a meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sunday, July 23, 2023
The Suwałki Gap between Poland and Lithuania separates Belarus from Kaliningrad
The leader of the Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, clashed with the national armed forces of Russia throughout the war while sending his private mercenaries to the front lines to die.
The mutiny at the end of June, which turned towards Moscow, progressed rapidly, captured Rostov and encroached on Russian territories.
Six Russian army helicopters and one plane were reportedly shot down in the clashes.
However, the mutiny did not achieve its goals, as Prigozhin negotiated peace through Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko before reaching Moscow.
All charges against the Wagner group leader were eventually dropped to allow him to move to Belarus.