THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The NATO chief said Tuesday that the might of Russia’s military should not be underestimated after a weekend mutiny by Wagner Group mercenaries, saying the alliance has increased its preparation to face Russia in recent days.
Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance may decide to further increase its strength and readiness to face Russia and its ally Belarus when NATO leaders meet in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius on July 11-12.
“So there is no misunderstanding and no room for misunderstanding in Moscow or Minsk about our ability to defend our allies against any potential threat,” Stoltenberg said.
At a meeting in The Hague of eight NATO leaders, Lithuanian President Nauseda Gypsy He said that neighboring countries would face greater danger if the Wagner Group deploys its “serial killers” in Belarus.
Stoltenberg said it was still too early to draw any conclusions about what Wagner’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and some of his forces might do or whether they might all end up in Belarus.
The leaders agreed that given the short-lived revolt by Wagner fighters in Russia over the weekend, the allies should continue to bolster their forces along NATO’s eastern flank to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from Try to expand your war.
NATO responded to Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 by deploying multinational battlegroups to Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. They complement another four deployed in 2017 in the three Baltic states and Poland, to expand NATO’s presence from the Baltic to the Black Sea. On Monday, Germany said it is ready to establish a permanent force base in Lithuania, if necessary.
Rutte and Stoltenberg met with the presidents of Romania and Poland and the leaders of Belgium, Norway, Albania and Lithuania at the official residence of the Dutch leader in a leafy suburb of The Hague.
Earlier Tuesday, Russian authorities said they had closed a criminal investigation into the miscarried. armed rebellion led by Prigozhin and does not press charges against him or his troops.
The mutiny by the Wagner Group forces lasted less than 24 hours, but represented the latest turn in a series of events that have brought the most serious threat to Putin’s hold on power in the 16-month-old boy. war in ukraine.
The war led Sweden and Finland to seek to join NATO. Finland has already become the newest member of the alliance, but Turkey is delaying Sweden’s membership.
On Monday, Stoltenberg said he would call an urgent meeting in the coming days to try to overcome Turkish objections to Sweden joining the military organization, in a last-ditch effort to have the Nordic country side with allies at a July summit in Lithuania.
NATO requires the unanimous approval of all members to expand. Turkey accuses Sweden of being too lenient towards groups Ankara says pose a security threat, including Kurdish militant groups and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt. ___
Lorne Cook and Raf Casert contributed from Brussels