Aleksandr Lukashenko Belarus Новая холодная война Путин Eurasian politics Lukashenka NATO NATO expansion NATO-Russian Ukrainian War NATO-Russian War New Cold War Poland Prigozhin Russia Russia and America Russia and Europe Russia and the West Russia-Belarus Union Ukraine Wagner PMC

The Belarus Knot and the Expansion of the NATO-Russia Ukrainian War

There has been a dramatic escalation in the strategic confrontation of military forces Western and Russian forces in and around Belarus in recent months. That shift is driven first by the creation of a Russian force in Belarus interoperable with the Belarusian army—in other words, a joint Russian-Belorussian force of probably several brigades. Second, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus back in March is currently being implemented. Facilities are being built, as of this discourse, and the weapons themselves will arrive in July ( Those weapons will remain under Russian control, putting Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic states, among others, on their heels strategically.

Finally, there is the redeployment of a significant part of the Wagner forces that were fighting in Ukraine until Wagner chief Yevgenii Prigozhin’s failed revolt to force the resignation or firing of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and perhaps even Chairman of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valerii Gerasimov that led to the deaths of some 25 Russian pilots. As far as the correlation of military forces in and around Ukraine is concerned, it is immaterial whether the redeployment to Belarus was a form of exile as punishment for the treasonous act of revolt during war time or, as some are convinced, the culmination of a special operation in which the Prigozhin rebellion was staged to provide cover for Wagner and other redeployments. The outcome is the same in either case: 10-20,000 battle-hardened, tried, tested, and triumphant Wagner attack troops are now added to other Russian and Belarusian forces in Belarus. In terms of perceptions, nerves, and itchy fingers on triggers, the myth, true or not, that the Prigozhin march was no domestic demarche but a clever play to deploy the victors of Bakhmut/Artyomevsk on the Ukrainian and Baltic borders could spread the NATO-Russia beyond Ukraine’s tattered borders.

It turns out that when the ‘March for Justice’ on Rostov-na-Donu, then Moscow marched to Belarus after the agreement brokered by Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenka it did so with it all of those troops’ heavy equipment and arms. As Andrei Fursov has noted, Wagner’s troops can now help train Belarusian forces, which have little to no battle experience. The presence of this Wagner fist in Belarus complicates Ukrainian, Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian and, to a lesser extent, Estonian security ( For Ukraine, the threat posed by any Russian and/or Belarusian invasion from Belarus grows. Now there are reports that Wagner is being deployed to the southwest Belarus near the Polish and western Ukrainian borders in order to counter a Polish-Estonian, Latvian-Lithuanian plan to insert into northwester Ukraine near Kovel (part of formerly Polish territory) a joint force to begin to secure western Ukraine ( If true this would mark a culmination of the profound shift in the strategic situation around Belarus ( With Wagner forces in the lead, any invasion from the north would likely be able to take the crucial transport hub of Kovel within months if not weeks and force Ukraine’s already depleted forces deployed in the south for the counteroffensive to be redeployed north, threatening the vital counteroffensive and the survivability of Ukraine’s army. This would drastically cut the flow of Western weapons to Kiev, when Ukraine’s supplies are already challenged. For Poland, the idea of destabilizing Belarus by way of color revolution may seem a less attractive idea, and there may be fears in Warsaw that Wagner could develop a challenge to Lukashenka’s rule.

Moreover, there are unconfirmed reports that Prigozhin was in Moscow on Tuesday, not Minsk, lending credence to the hypothesis that the Wagner revolt was indeed a special operation to provide cover for the redeployment ( This is bound to make the West, especially the Poles and Baltics nervous. Polish President Andrzej Duda has already expressed concern, and he and his counterparts from all three Baltic states traveled to Kiev on the same day Wagner was set in Belarus and Prigozhin supposedly back in Moscow ‘negotiating’ with Putin and Shoigu. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced the need to strengthen the borders against the background of news about the relocation of the Wagner forces to Belarus and warned that the “risk of the threat from Moscow” now has grown, calling the actions of Putin and Lukashenka “strange” ( This last statement may suggest that the Poles are wary that the version of a special operation to mask redeployment is viable and is meant precisely to counter plans for Polish-Baltic deployments in Ukraine or something worse. The redeployment of Wagner to Belarus renders Minsk and Moscow in better shape to deter or counter any Polish-Baltic move into western Ukraine. The overall situation is one in which there is a scaled down version of the security dilemma where each side’s attempt to ensure its own security or strengthen its position in and around Ukraine weakens the other’s efforts to do so.

Another aspect is the potential threat that Prigozhin and Wagner might pose to Lukashenka’s rule in Belarus. Lukashenka’s government was shaken by demonstrations in 2020, so its overall staying power may be questioned, and the West is certainly working behind the scenes to infiltrate this key Russian buffer state and repeat 2020, this time with success. Prigozhin is a loose cannon, with a narcissist’s typical aversion to loyalty and political ambitions. He was capable of acting against the interests of his long-time associate, Putin, in order essentially to force the Russian president to give in to his own personal preferences over who ultimately controls Wagner, who should lead the military, and how the war is being fought. Therefore, it is easily imaginable that Prigozhin could do the same against Lukashenka if he takes measures that do not suit the renegade oligarch or should Lukashenka tire regarding Wagner’s presence in Belarus.

Putin might recall that the late Soviet and new Russian Federation pardoning of the August 1991 coup plotters and failure to renew the post-Soviet Russian leadership in 1991-1992 led to the October 1993 State Duma revolt against Boris Yeltsin’s government. Digging further back in Russian history, we might recall that the failure to punish the Ural Cossacks’ revolt in Orenburg in 1772 led to the rise of the Pugachev rebellion that shook the rule of Catherine the Great nearly to its foundations.    One thing seems likely if not certain. Should Warsaw, Riga, Vilnius, and Tallinn decide to challenge the Russians and Belarusians and send what will be a de facto NATO force into western Ukraine after the NATO summit rejects an official guarantee of Kiev’s entry into the alliance as is expected, they will meeting up with Mr. Prigozhin and Wagner’s next expedition. Then NATO, more precisely an aged Joe Biden, will be forced to make a decision as to whether a Belarusian-Polish conflict in Ukraine can be fit under the rubric of the NATO Charter’s Article 5. If the decision is positive, then nit just Mr. Prigozhin but we all be in completely new territory.










About the Author 

Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, Websites: Russian and Eurasian Politics, and

Dr. Hahn is the author of the new book: Russian Tselostnost’: Wholeness in Russian Thought, Culture, History, and Politics (Europe Books, 2022). He has authored five previous, well-received books: The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, 2021); Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.

Dr. Hahn taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and was a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group.

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