Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted that Ukraine’s attempt to reclaim land captured by Russia has been unsuccessful during a meeting with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko in St. Petersburg. This meeting marked the first time the two leaders have come together since Minsk played a role in quelling a rebellion by mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group.
Lukashenko facilitated an agreement that led to the presence of Wagner fighters in Belarus, after convincing Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, to abandon a march on Moscow and take refuge in Belarus instead.
According to Russian news agencies, Lukashenko stated, “There is no counteroffensive,” to which Putin interjected, “It exists, but it has failed.”
Ukraine initiated its long-anticipated counteroffensive last month, but progress has been limited, with modest gains made against well-established Russian forces that currently occupy over one-sixth of Ukraine’s territory after almost 17 months of conflict.
In a lighthearted tone, a Telegram channel linked to Lukashenko quoted him as saying that the Wagner Group fighters, who are now training Belarus’s army, expressed interest in crossing the border into NATO member Poland. However, there was no indication that Lukashenko seriously entertained this idea.
Lukashenko joked, “They are asking to go West, ask me for permission… to go on a trip to Warsaw, to Rzeszow,” while Putin smiled. Lukashenko assured that he had kept the fighters in central Belarus, as agreed upon.
He expressed gratitude to Putin for pledging to defend Belarus if it faced any attack. This came shortly after Putin made controversial remarks, referring to western Poland as a “gift” from Stalin after World War II, a statement that prompted Warsaw to summon the Russian ambassador.
The Belarusian defense ministry disclosed that Wagner fighters had begun training Belarusian special forces near the Polish border, leading Poland to deploy additional troops to its border with Belarus.
In response, Putin cautioned Poland against any aggression towards Belarus, warning that such actions would be regarded as an attack on Russia. He asserted that Moscow would use all available means to respond to any hostile actions against Minsk.