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Why’d Lithuania Abruptly Stop Fearmongering About Wagner’s Presence In Belarus?
This is newsworthy not only because it’s a complete reversal of the Lithuanian President’s earlier position, but also because it contradicts the rhetoric pushed by neighboring Poland’s ruling party ahead of the 15 October national elections.
Lithuania threw observers a curveball after President Gitanas Nauseda abruptly walked back his prior fearmongering about Wagner’s presence in Belarus on Tuesday less than a week after his country joined Poland and the other Baltic States in demanding that Minsk expel those fighters from its territory. Despite previously claiming that chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death wouldn’t lessen the threat that’s supposedly posed by this group, Bloomberg reported that he now said it’s since abated.
Nauseda’s latest assessment is that “The situation hasn’t escalated. We see certain confusion within Wagner after Prigozhin’s death. If the situation becomes more complicated, we must act. If the situation remains unchanged or it stabilizes, we must act differently. No one wants to close borders purely for sporting interest.” This is newsworthy not only because it’s a complete reversal of his country’s position, but also because it contradicts the rhetoric pushed by neighboring Poland’s ruling party.
The “Law & Justice” (PiS) party is making the upcoming 15 October elections all about national security in an attempt to gain enough of an edge over their rivals that they don’t need to consider forming a coalition with the anti-establishment Confederation party afterwards. To that end, they hyped up the threat that they claim Wagner poses to the Suwalki Corridor, though this was earlier debunked by the New York Times and now by none other than the leader of fellow NATO member Lithuania too.
It'll therefore be much more difficult for PiS to sell this narrative, especially since Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko surprisingly proposed a rapprochement with Poland last month and then impressively refused to overreact to an accidental violation of his country’s border by Poland last week. All these developments impede PiS’ possible plot that was warned about here to pressure Lithuania into reimposing last summer’s blockade against Kaliningrad on this pretext.
While Lithuania shares Poland’s concern that the possible resumption of talks later this year for ending the NATO-Russian proxy war in Ukraine might lead to the US “selling them out”, it appears to have lost interest in trying to offset that scenario via another blockade. There are three potential reasons for this: 1) recent provocations failed to spark an escalation in the proxy war; 2) Kiev is clearly planning to perpetuate the conflict into next year; and 3) Vilnius might not truly trust Warsaw.
In the order that they were shared, these recent analyses here and here confirm that the Pskov and Romanian provocations failed to trick Russia and NATO respectively into escalating against the other. As for the second, these analyses here and here argue that Kiev is ready to draft more of its people at home and abroad correspondingly in order to keep the conflict going throughout the winter. Meanwhile, the final point is admittedly speculative and was just introduced by a top Belarusian military official.
Russia’s TASS reported that Andrey Bogodel, who’s deputy head of the department of the General Staff of the Armed Forces at the Military Academy of Belarus, shared the following assessment:
“Every military man understands perfectly well that the Suwalki Gap does not pass through the territory of Poland alone, where there are actually no major transportation arteries, but just swamps. [The Suwalki Gap] lies further to the northwest, through the territory of Lithuania. This explains why Poland is constantly stirring up tensions in order to enter the territory of Lithuania and occupy the Vilnius Region, ostensibly for the purpose of defending this land.”
In other words, Poland’s newly debunked fearmongering about Wagner’s presence in Belarus might be a ruse for informally expanding its envisaged “sphere of influence” across the former Commonwealth.
Truth be told, the first two possible reasons are more credible than the last, though this doesn’t mean that Bogadel’s claims don’t have any basis to them. Lithuania probably realized that any potential anti-Russian provocation from its territory could backfire and would also be redundant now that Kiev is making tangible moves to perpetuate the proxy war. Nevertheless, it might also feel uncomfortable with potential Polish pressure to host its troops on this pretext.
To elaborate, Lithuania already hosts multinational NATO battlegroups, including US troops. Germany also recently expressed its interest in permanently deploying a whopping 4,000 of its own soldiers to that country. All of this is more than enough to convince its people that Russia won’t attack them. Permanently hosting a significant number of Polish troops therefore wouldn’t be necessary and could risk reviving unpleasant memories from the Commonwealth and interwar periods.
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was Poland’s “junior partner” for centuries to the growing discomfort of its elite and eventually the masses as well, and then its historic capital of Vilnius was occupied by Polish troops shortly after World War I upon both of them regaining their independence. The possibility of a de facto permanent Polish military deployment there could understandably incense the locals and possibly lead to yet another rift within NATO, thus adding context to Bogadel’s assessment.
Regardless of whether one extends credence to his views, there’s no denying that Lithuania just abruptly stopped fearmongering about Wagner’s presence in Belarus, and this left many scrambling for an explanation. More than likely, the tangible moves that Kiev is taking to perpetuate the proxy war into next year are responsible for this, but it’s also possible that Vilnius might no longer truly trust Warsaw. In any case, PiS is sure to be displeased after Vilnius just debunked one of its top electioneering narratives.