Putin meets with Lukashenko, discusses Wagner troops, Ukraine counter-offensive

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has met his closest ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, for the first time since the latter helped broker a deal to end a mutiny by Wagner fighters inside Russia last month.

A video posted on Sunday by Lukashenko’s press service showed the two longtime leaders arriving at Saint Petersburg’s Konstantinovsky palace together ahead of scheduled talks.

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Putin told his Belarus counterpart that an ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive to push back Russian forces from Ukraine has “failed,” according to Russian news agencies.

“There is no counteroffensive,” Lukashenko said, according to the TASS news agency before being interrupted by Putin: “There is one, but it has failed.”

The Belarusian leader said that he was “keeping” Russian Wagner mercenaries in central Belarus and that Minsk was “controlling” the situation with the notorious fighters on its territory.

“They are asking to go West, ask me for permission... to go on a trip to Warsaw, to Rzeszow,” Lukashenko said to Putin, who smiled. “But of course, I am keeping them in central Belarus, like we agreed.”

“We are controlling what is happening (with Wagner),” he said, adding: “They are in a bad mood.”

Putin and Lukashenko met a crowd of people in Russia’s Kronstadt town on Kotlin Island, in a rare walkabout for the longtime leaders a month after a deal to end a dramatic Wagner munity in Russia.

Russia’s Kommersant newspaper posted a video of Putin and Lukashenko posing for photographs with people, with bodyguards standing nearby. Asked about quarantine rules which the Russian leader has been keeping up since the pandemic, Putin replied: “People are more important than quarantine.”

Ukraine began its long-anticipated counter-offensive last month but has so far made only small gains against well entrenched Russian forces who control more than a sixth of its territory after nearly 17 months of war.

US General Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday the Ukrainian drive was “far from a failure” but would be long, hard and bloody.

A Telegram channel linked to Lukashenko quoted him as saying in a jocular tone that fighters of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group who are now training Belarus’s army were keen to push across the border into NATO member Poland.

“The Wagner guys have started to stress us - they want to go west. ‘Let’s go on a trip to Warsaw and Rzeszow’,” he was quoted as saying. There was no indication that Lukashenko was seriously entertaining that idea.

Poland is moving extra troops towards the border with Belarus in response to the arrival of Wagner forces who relocated there after a short-lived mutiny in Russia last month.

with agencies

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