There are three interpretations of why Lukashenko just publicly shared his concerns with Putin about the possibility of Wagner invading Poland.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told his Russian counterpart during talks on Sunday that his country’s local authorities are becoming “concerned” about the Wagner fighters that they’re hosting. According to him, these guests are in a “bad mood” and want to “go on tour to Poland”, particularly to the capital of Warsaw and NATO’s logistical center in the southeastern city of Rzezsow. These five analyses set the context in which the Belarusian leader shared his concerns:
* 27 June: “Prigozhin Was The West’s ‘Useful Idiot’”
In brief, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and many of those who he misled to rebel alongside him chose to go into exile to Belarus, where they were tasked with training its forces after Lukashenko warned earlier this summer about the threat of Belgorod-like proxy incursions. The announcement of last week’s joint drills near the Polish border was exploited by Warsaw to move troops to their frontier, after which President Putin exposed that country’s plans to lead a conventional military intervention in Ukraine.
The Russian leader wanted to deter them from doing so, but it’s too early to say whether or not he succeeded. Nevertheless, Lukashenko’s latest words about Wagner should be seen in this context since Poland has started fearmongering that this group is planning to invade, the scenario of which is inadvertently being lent credence by what he just told President Putin. Having summarized the background leading up to Sunday’s development, it’s now time to interpret what this might mean.
Those who believe in “5D chess” conspiracy theories, the gist of which were explained here in this piece about them and their “doom & gloom” rivals, will likely claim that Lukashenko is feigning concern as part of a “maskirovka” operation designed to establish plausible deniability ahead of Wagner invading Poland. In their mind, President Putin cooked up a “false flag coup” with Prigozhin that included the latter’s fighters shooting down aircraft to make it more believable, all to redeploy Wagner to Belarus.
This conspiracy theory is discredited by President Putin himself telling the world that Wagner was going to Belarus in the aftermath of that incident, which Lukashenko also confirmed, thus making no secret of their redeployment there. Accordingly, it doesn’t make sense to think that he cooked up a “false flag coup” with Prigozhin for the purpose of covering up the logistics of those fighters’ move only to then make sure that the entire world knew about this.
Nevertheless, it’s a matter of dogma for “5D chess” conspiracy theorists to always spin undeniable setbacks such as last month’s failed coup attempt as part of a “master plan” thought up by a bunch of “geniuses”, which average folks are supposedly unable to understand. With this worldview in mind, it’s therefore predictable that they’ll see this latest development as “proof” that their kooky explanation of recent events is true, which will likely lead to them then claiming that Wagner will indeed invade Poland.
The second interpretation of Lukashenko’s words is that they’re untrue exactly as the “5D chess” conspiracy theorists are inclined to think, but that this doesn’t mean that last month’s failed coup attempt was a “false flag”. Rather, it could be that he’s opportunistically taking advantage of the fear that Wagner instills in the paranoid and Russophobic Polish leadership in an effort to further deter them from leading a conventional military intervention in Ukraine.
This school of thought acknowledges the reality of leaders sometimes saying false statements for strategic purposes, but is reasonable in terms of how they interpret their intent, unlike the “5D chess” conspiracy theorists who never miss the chance to allege that everything is part of a “master plan”. There’s nothing contradictory in recognizing that last month’s failed coup attempt was real but that Lukashenko, perhaps at President Putin’s suggestion, is opportunistically taking advantage of this.
It’s logical to believe that this is the case since it serves the Union State’s interests to deter the de facto expansion of Poland into Western Ukraine like the Russian leader just warned is being planned. To that end, it makes sense for Lukashenko to imply that Wagner might once again go rogue, especially if the Union State orders them to fight the Poles in Ukraine should Warsaw lead a conventional military intervention there since the Kremlin might want to retain plausible deniability in that scenario.
The final interpretation of what Lukashenko just said is that he’s telling the truth and Wagner might truly be about to go rogue in a way that could dangerously risk World War III by miscalculation. This group is considered to be among the world’s most effective fighting forces so it’s unbelievable to imagine that Belarus could stop them if they tried storming across the Polish and/or Ukrainian borders. If there’s really a credible chance of this happening, then it’s in Belarus’ interests to warn the whole world.
Minsk, and by extension its mutual security guarantors in Moscow, wouldn’t want Warsaw to think that Wagner’s possible invasion of Poland was approved by the Union State since that could lead to this targeted NATO state calling on Washington to support it with armed force via their interpretation of Article 5. It’s extremely unlikely that the US would sit back and not respond in any way whatsoever in the event that one of the world’s most effective fighting forces rampages all across its top regional ally.
A global crisis would likely follow, which could lead to the US destroying Wagner in the comparatively best-case scenario or retaliating across the group’s camps in Belarus in the worst-case scenario. Considering Prigozhin’s prior claims that the Ministry of Defense abandoned his group outside Deir ez-Zor half a decade ago to be destroyed by the Americans after they went on the attack in its ‘sphere of influence’ there, Wagner might thus be reluctant to risk the same fate twice by attacking Poland.
The preceding observation presumes that Prigozhin and his group are still rational actors, though that can’t be taken for granted, so it might very well be the case that they’ve finally snapped by thinking that they can force Russia to directly attack NATO to “save face” if they invade Poland. After all, they might have convinced themselves that Kremlin hardliners could successfully persuade President Putin to do this in order to avoid the “embarrassment” of letting the US destroy some of Russia’s top fighters.
In all likelihood, the second-mentioned scenario is probably the most realistic since the first is way too kooky while the third requires one to believe that Prigozhin and his group are willing to risk replicating the disaster at Deir ez-Zor after failing to learn their lesson about the consequences of going rogue. That said, the third scenario also can’t be ruled out, but it’s still far-fetched. In any case, Lukashenko wouldn’t have publicly shared his concerns about Wagner for no reason, but his intentions remain to be seen.