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Belarus opposition sees Prigozhin's presence as 'threat'

June 28, 2023

The Wagner Group boss was exiled to Belarus this week following a short-lived rebellion by his mercenaries in Russia. Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told DW his presence there is a security threat.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said Prigozhin's arrival in Minsk could lead to a renewed invasion of Ukraine from Belarusian territoryImage: Stefani Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

The leader of the Belarusian opposition movement, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, told DW on Wednesday that the presence of the leader of Russian mercenary group Wagner in Belarus poses a threat to both European security and Belarusian independence.

Wager chief Yevgeny Prigozhin arrived in Minsk on Tuesday after a deal was struck between the country's leader, Alexander Lukashenko, and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

The deal ended last weekend's failed Wagner Group mutiny, in which mercenaries seized control of the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and threatened an attack on Moscow.

Tsikhanouskaya: War is escalating to Belarusian territory

"We are against the presence of Prigozhin in our land because it's a threat to the security of the people and a threat to our independence," Tsikhanouskaya said. "We don't want Belarus to be involved in this Russian war. But now, we see that the war is escalating to our territory."

"I think this story is not over yet because Prigozhin humiliated Putin and Putin said in his speech that he doesn't forgive betrayers. What that means in practice, we don't know," Tsikhanouskaya continued, adding that Lukashenko is loyal to Putin and will likely fulfill all his orders.

"If Putin gives Lukashenko the order to get rid of Prigozhin, he will do this," she said.

Wagner leader Prigozhin arrives in Belarus

Nuclear weapons in Belarus

Tsikhanouskaya said that she doesn't know what Prigozhin will do during his exile in Belarus. However, she expressed concern that his presence could lead to a renewed invasion of Ukraine from Belarusian territory, or that border provocations could erupt on the eve of the NATO summit in neighboring Lithuania.

The Belarusian opposition leader added that NATO should react to Russia transporting its tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus.

"I would like the West to be more concerned than they are at the moment. I still feel that the democratic world is keeping silent about the deployment of nuclear weapon in Belarus," she said. 

Tsikhanouskaya added that she views the presence of Russian nuclear weapons as "a huge threat to our sovereignty."

"That's why I really want this topic ... to be more discussed at NATO summits, on national levels, in UN structures."

Infrastructure that Wagner built 'difficult to replace': John Lechner, Wagner expert

Belarus' neighbors are concerned

Tsikhanouskaya's interview came as she met key figures in Brussels, including the European Council President Charles Michel. Meanwhile, other European leaders also expressed concerns about Wagner troops in Belarus.

"It is difficult for us to exclude today that the presence of the Wagner Group in Belarus could pose a potential threat to Poland, which shares a border with Belarus, a threat to Lithuania ... as well as potentially to Latvia," Polish President Andrzej Duda said during a visit to Ukraine on Wednesday .

Latvia and Lithuania called on Tuesday for NATO to strengthen its eastern borders in response to expectations that Wagner Group will set up a new base in Belarus after its aborted mutiny at home.

dh/nm (AFP, Reuters)