Don't underestimate Russian military, Nato's Stoltenberg warns

Jens Stoltenberg warns Moscow that Nato has increased its readiness to confront it in recent days

The leaders of Albania, Belgium, Poland, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Romania speak alongside Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, third left, in The Hague. AFP
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The power of Russia’s military should not be underestimated despite the attempted mutiny by Wagner Group mercenaries, the head of Nato said on Tuesday.

Jens Stoltenberg also warned Moscow that the alliance had increased its readiness to confront it in recent days.

Nato may decide to further boost its strength and readiness to face Russia and its ally Belarus when alliance leaders meet in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius on July 11-12, Mr Stoltenberg said.

“So, [let there be] no misunderstanding and no room for misunderstanding in Moscow or Minsk about our ability to defend our allies against any potential threat,” he added.

At a meeting in The Hague of eight Nato leaders, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said that neighbouring countries would face a heightened danger if the Wagner Group deploys its “serial killers” in Belarus.

Mr Stoltenberg said it was still too early to draw any conclusions about what Wagner 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 at the weekend, the allies should continue to bolster their forces along Nato’s eastern flank to discourage Russian President Vladimir Putin from attempting to widen his war.

Nato responded to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 by sending multinational battle groups to Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

They complement another four sent in 2017 in the three Baltic states and Poland aimed at expanding Nato’s presence from the Baltics to the Black Sea.

On Monday, Germany said that it stands ready to permanently base forces in Lithuania, if needed.

A look at the Nato military alliance – in pictures

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Mr Stoltenberg met the presidents of Romania and Poland as well as the leaders of Belgium, Norway, Albania and Lithuania at Mr Rutte's official residence in a leafy suburb of The Hague.

Earlier on Tuesday, Russian authorities said they had closed a criminal investigation into the aborted armed rebellion led by Mr Prigozhin and are pressing no charges against him or his troops.

The mutiny by Wagner Group forces lasted less than 24 hours, but formed the latest twist in a series of events that have brought the gravest threat to Mr Putin’s grip on power in the 16-month-old war in Ukraine.

The war led Sweden and Finland to seek to join Nato. Finland has already become the alliance's latest member, but Sweden's membership is being held up by Turkey.

On Monday, Mr Stoltenberg said he would call an urgent meeting in the coming days to try to overcome Turkish objections to Sweden joining the military organisation, in a last-ditch effort to have the Nordic country standing alongside the allies at the July summit in Lithuania.

Nato requires the unanimous approval of all members to expand.

Turkey accuses Sweden of being too lenient towards groups that Ankara says pose a security threat, including militant Kurdish groups and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt.

Updated: June 27, 2023, 10:54 PM