Russia claims to have shot down S-200 Ukrainian missile
The death of Yevgeny Prigozhin could ultimately backfire on Vladimir Putin and cost him his closest ally in Europe, experts have warned.
Prigozhin died with his right-hand man Dmitry Utkin after their plane crashed in a field shortly after departing Moscow on Wednesday.
The Wagner Group chief’s death has been widely mourned across the mercenary group and has sparked speculation about the future of the organization.
A large group of the mercenaries were forced into exile in Belarus after an attempted mutiny in June – although reports have since emerged suggesting President Alexander Lukashenko has ordered them out after the Kremlin failed to pay for their stay.
Senior opposition figures in Belarus are now watching closely to see how the situation will unfold in the hope of exploiting the uncertainty to destabilise Putin’s close ally.
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Franak Viačorka told Newsweek: “Probably Putin will try to include Wagner mercenaries in the Russian armed forces, or to completely liquidate the organization, which can potentially open some windows of opportunity for Belarus.”
Viačorka is the chief political advisor of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the leader of the Belarusian opposition who was forced into exile after challenging Lukashenko in the 2020 presidential election.
He continued: “Wagner presence in Belarus was an anchor of Russian control of our country and an imminent threat, both to our sovereignty but also to that of our neighbours.”
The activist said the opposition remains in contact with their informants on the ground, coordinating with the Ukrainian Government to discuss the impact of Prigozhin’s death on the future of his country.
He added: “We are working with our partisans on this as well. So far, we have not planned any practical activities.
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“We are following and monitoring. But when there will be a window of opportunity, we will use it.”
The Belarusian opposition has claimed Lukashenko’s strengthening ties with Putin have upset many members of the public, including the elites that have propped up his government for more than 20 years.
Viačorka noted the ongoing chaos could “create some turbulence within power elites and others very dependent on Russia right now, it can spark some instability.”
He added: “I think [Prigozhin’s] death will not change everything, but it can change and impact many things. We should be prepared.”
The comments come only a few days after Poland’s President Andrzej Duda confirmed that Moscow began shifting some short-range nuclear weapons to neighbouring Belarus, a move that he said will change the security architecture of the region and the entire NATO military alliance.
Both Putin and Lukashenko said last month that Moscow had already shipped some of its tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus after announcing the plan in March. The US and NATO haven’t confirmed the move.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg denounced Moscow’s rhetoric as “dangerous and reckless,” but said in July that the alliance hadn’t seen any change in Russia’s nuclear posture.
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