From Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 24, 2023, p. 5. Condensed text:

[Russian President] Vladimir Putin met with [Belarussian President] Aleksandr Lukashenko in St. Petersburg on Sunday [July 23]. In addition to economic integration, the two presidents discussed defense cooperation. The Belarussian president told his Russian counterpart that Wagner fighters keep asking him when they can “take a tour” of Poland and that Warsaw, for its part, plans to seize the western provinces of Ukraine. As the two presidents were meeting, Wagner Group instructors conducted a training session for Belarussian special forces at military training grounds in Brest. The press office of the Defense Ministry offered exuberant quotes from Belarussian service members who said the experience that Wagner fighters shared with them is invaluable and extremely useful. In the meantime, Yevgeny Prigozhin has registered his first company in Belarus.

The first round of talks between Vladimir Putin and Aleksandr Lukashenko in St. Petersburg took place on Sunday. The second one is scheduled for Monday. The Belarussian leader shared some intriguing details at the meeting. “I’m not sure if I should tell you about this, but I’m going to say it anyway. Wagner fighters have been bugging me lately. They keep asking me to let them travel to the West. I ask them, ‘What do you need to go to the West for?’ And they say, ‘Oh, we just want to take a tour of Warsaw and Rzeszow,’ ” Lukashenko said. He added, though, that the situation was under control, and that he wouldn’t allow anyone to cross the border.

At the same time, he said, Poland doesn’t appreciate his kindness and instead has deployed significant forces on the border of the Union State [of Russia and Belarus], as shown on a map Lukashenko brought with him.

“I just want to thank you. You are the first person in Russia who said openly, firmly and clearly that Russia would respond to any aggression against Belarus as if it were aggression against Russia itself. We count on it when organizing our military,” Lukashenko told Putin.

The Belarussian leader thinks Poland is up to no good. “Again, like you said, there is a lot of talk right now about Ukraine joining NATO ‘in pieces.’ What does it actually mean? It’s a smoke screen. What they really want is to grab a chunk of western Ukraine. And in order to sell it to the locals, they are going to make it look like western Ukraine will become NATO territory,” Lukashenko said, laying bare the enemy’s evil plans. “They are going to occupy western Ukraine and annex it to Poland. This is the payoff that the Poles get for playing an active role in this campaign against the Russian military. The US has given this the green light,” Lukashenko added.

“Any attempt to sever western Ukraine from the rest of the country, to carve up Ukraine and give some territories to Poland, would be unacceptable. If we have to come to the rescue of the people in western Ukraine, we will certainly do so. I ask the Russian leadership to consider and discuss this situation. Naturally, I hope you support whatever action we must take.”

Of course, Lukashenko is also counting on economic support from Russia. “As far as the economy is concerned, I’d like to ask you once again to have our governments come together and work out some sort of economic plan. The key idea should be self-reliance. We are not going to jump through their hoops. We have plenty of talent. We have an abundance of natural resources. So, we should draw up a plan on how we are going to develop our Motherland together. As I always say, we have two nations but one Motherland. We can do this. But of course, Russia plays the key role here – that has been the case for ages.”

In the meantime, Wagner fighters, who are being kept out of Poland (at least for now) are busy sharing their extensive experience with Belarussian special forces. “Wagner fighters are taking part in a four-day training program on combat tactics and special skills at military training grounds in Brest,” the Belarussian Defense Ministry’s press office reported.

In a video posted on the Belarussian Defense Ministry’s official Telegram channel, an anonymous Belarussian special forces soldier shares his impressions of the training program: “We are doing our absolute best to absorb all this knowledge. We are analyzing their experience and applying it to our situations. This kind of experience is invaluable to us. So, during these four days, we are all like sponges, trying to absorb as much as we can and analyze it, so we can apply it going forward. If we must, we will use this experience in defending our Motherland.” . . .

In the meantime, [opposition news portal] Reform.byreports that the authorities in Mogilev Province have registered a new company, Concord Management and Consulting, in the local village of Tsel. Yevgeny Prigozhin is listed as the company’s chief executive officer. Reporters have found the registration record in the State Registry of Companies and Self-Employed Persons maintained by the Belarussian Ministry of Justice.

Belarussian political commentators are offering various scenarios as to how Wagner Group might be used. For example, speaking on the Malanka.mediaYouTube channel, military expert Pavel Lakiichuk said that Aleksandr Lukashenko probably wants to use Wagner as a version of the Swiss Guards, i.e., an elite unit of foreign mercenaries he can rely on in a difficult situation.

When asked whether Wagner Group posed a threat to the neighboring country, the expert said that “both Poland and the Baltic nations are protected much better today than they were 18 months ago, so while we may see some provocations coming from Belarus, such a scenario is unlikely.”

On the other hand, political commentator Valery Karbalevich pointed out another important aspect in his op-ed on the Telegram channel Pozirk – Naviny pra Belarus: “The presence of Wagner fighters in Belarus reinforces Russia’s influence on the Belarussian military and the general public. Wagner mercenaries are even more radical in their aspirations of rebuilding Russia as a great empire than the Kremlin itself. And these people are now going to be training Belarussian servicemen.”