Wagner’s chief Yevgeny Prigozhin struck a deal to go to Belarus – but NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said only a few of his mercenaries ended up there.
In an interview with POLITICO on Wednesday, the defensive alliance chief said Wagner’s forces remain active in Africa and away from the front line in Ukraine, but few have arrived in Belarus.
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko brokered a deal for Prigozhin to visit his country following a failed mutiny in Russia, sparking fears over a possible future presence of Wagner in the region.
“We saw preparations for the reception of Wagner’s forces,” Stoltenberg said. But, he added, “we haven’t seen that many happen yet.”
“We are of course following closely what is happening in Belarus,” Stoltenberg said. “What we have seen is that Wagner forces continue to operate in Africa,” he noted, pointing out that so few have gone to Belarus, “some are in Ukraine, but not on the front line “.
Nonetheless, the secretary general was cautious in his assessment of what’s next for Wagner.
“I think it’s a bit too early to draw any firm conclusions” about the implications for Wagner of recent events, he said.
Asked about Ukraine’s counter-offensive, the general secretary was optimistic but acknowledged the significant challenges Kyiv’s forces face on the battlefield.
“The Ukrainians have made progress, but they face fierce fighting,” he said. “They face difficult terrain and entrenched Russian resistance,” the NATO chief said, pointing to “many defensive lines prepared in advance.”
“So of course that had an impact on the pace of progress,” the secretary-general said. “Wars are hard to predict.”
The Ukrainians, added the general secretary, “keep pushing, they keep making progress.”