The Wagner Group’s repositioning of forces to Belarus puts Russia in a position to quickly strike vital NATO targets near Poland and Lithuania, according to a former Russian army officer.
Andrey Kartapolov, a Russian politician and former colonel in the Russian military, told Russian state television that the private military company Wagner Group could strike the border region of Poland and Lithuania in “a matter of hours” from its new location in Belarus, according to a report from the Sun.
The Russian mercenary group’s presence in Belarus comes after an apparent failed uprising by Wagner Group and its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, last month. As part of a deal with the Kremlin to end the uprising, Prigozhin agreed to exile to Belarus, where Wagner fighters have begun joining him and have reportedly been helping train the country’s military.
Belarus, which has been aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the war in Ukraine, sits at a strategically important crossroads of Europe, bordering NATO countries such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia in addition to Ukraine. That border includes the strategically-important Suwalki Corridor, a 60-mile strip of land along the border of Poland and Lithuania that sits between Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, home to Russia’s Baltic Fleet.
“Should anything happen, we need this Suwalki Corridor very much,” Kartapolov said during his TV appearance, according to the report. “”A strike force [based in Wagner forces in Belarus] is ready to take this corridor in a matter of hours.”
Rebekah Koffler, an author and former DIA intelligence officer, told Fox News Digital the move of Wagner forces to Belarus could be part of a Putin plan to open up another front in the Ukraine war.
“The repositioning of the Wagner Group was part of Putin’s plan to open the second front in Belarus, which is now in possession of tactical nuclear weapons,” Koffler said. “Putin — under the guise of the so-called ‘Prigozhin coup’ — placed Wagner, his best fighting force, in a much more threatening position: within striking distance of both Kyiv, Ukraine and NATO’s border – Latvia, Lithuania.”
While Koffler does not believe the move means Putin is seeking to strike NATO, she did argue it was a way in which Putin could “be ready” in the event the Kremlin fears an escalation of the conflict by the U.S. and NATO.
“Russia’s General Staff that does long-term forecasting, assessed a decade ago that a direct war between Russia and the U.S./NATO is ‘inevitable,'” Koffler said. “Moscow is interpreting every U.S. and NATO move within that prism. Whatever Biden’s rationale is for this recent deployment, to Putin it means the U.S. is ready to jump in the fight.”
However, Koffler warned Russia could still choose to launch an initial strike from Belarus, arguing that any NATO actions Putin interprets as escalatory could cause him to act.
“Putin will not wait for the U.S. to strike first,” Koffler said. “If Russian intelligence assesses that U.S./NATO forces are about to join the fight, Putin will likely do what Kartapolov warns about.”