Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday that Ukraine’s counteroffensive has failed, as he hosted Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko for talks in St. Petersburg.
“There is no counteroffensive,” Lukashenko was quoted by Russian news agencies. Putin replied, “It exists, but it has failed.”
Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive started in June. Yet, it only managed to achieve limited gains against the well-entrenched Russian army, which controls more than a sixth of the country’s territory.
However, US General Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believes that the Ukrainian counterattack was “far from a failure” but would be long, hard and bloody.
During the meeting, Lukashenko also made a jocular remark about the Wagner Group, a paramilitary unit that is now training Belarusian special forces.
He said that the Wagner fighters are itching to push across the border into NATO member Poland, Reuters reported.
However, there is no indication that Lukashenko was seriously entertaining this idea.
Some Belarussian telegram channels even claimed that he said that “the Wagner guys have started to stress us — they want to go west. ‘Let’s go on a trip to Warsaw and Rzeszow.”
The Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor, has been exiled to Belarus by President Putin following an attempted mutiny by the group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, against Russian military leadership in June.
The transfer of the Wagner Group to Belarus has raised concerns about stability across Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland, which shares a strategically critical border with Belarus.
Last week, Belarus’ Defence Ministry said that Wagner Group had started training Belarusian special forces at a military range near the Polish border.
In response, Poland has deployed additional troops to its border with Belarus.
The Russian president warned Poland on Friday that he would consider any aggression against Belarus as an attack on Russia. He has said that Moscow would use “all means” to respond to any hostility towards Minsk.
An attack against Poland would draw a response from North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as Article 5 of its founding treaty states that an attack against one NATO member shall be treated as an attack against all.
The situation in Eastern Europe is therefore highly volatile, and there is a risk of further escalation. It is important to monitor the situation closely and to be prepared for any eventuality.