Poland beefs up Belarus border on Wagner jitters; Russia ‘likely pulling forces towards Bakhmut’

Poland beefs up Belarus border on Wagner jitters; Russia ‘likely pulling forces towards Bakhmut’
A Ukrainian serviceman from the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade flashes the V sign as they ride an armoured personnel carrier at a road near the frontline city of Bakhmut, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, 1 July 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Alex Babenko)

The potential establishment of Wagner militia camps in Belarus continues to stir alarm. Poland said it would send 500 extra police officers to its border with the Russian ally. Ukrainian commanders met on Saturday to hear a report on the operational situation on the northern border, said President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s private jet reportedly landed in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on Saturday from St Petersburg, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which cited public flight tracking data. Satellite images show hundreds of large tents set up over the past week at a previously abandoned military base in Belarus about 240km north of the Ukrainian border, the Associated Press reported. 

As their counteroffensive continued, Ukrainian forces advanced towards Bakhmut, a military spokesperson said, as the eastern city — heavily damaged during months of fighting — once again becomes a focus of hostilities. Russia is likely pulling forces from elsewhere towards Bakhmut, the ISW said. 

Ukraine’s air defence said it downed eight Shahed drones and three Kalibr missiles launched by Russia overnight, including the first attempted strike on Kyiv in almost two weeks. Zelensky visited Odesa on Sunday to review naval capabilities there, and Ukraine’s navy reported that nine Russian warships were currently in the Black Sea. 

The Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine has had a “corrosive” effect on President Vladimir Putin’s regime and Russian society, William Burns, director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, said on Saturday. “Disaffection with the war will continue to gnaw away at the Russian leadership,” the top US spy said in a lecture at Britain’s Ditchley Foundation

Latest developments

Biden to shore up Nato allies following failed mutiny in Russia

US President Joe Biden will leave for Europe in a week to firm up ties with key Nato allies, including the UK, in the wake of last month’s abortive uprising in Russia.

Biden plans to hold talks with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak before heading to Vilnius, Lithuania, for the 74th Nato summit, and ending in Finland with a gathering of Nordic leaders, the White House said in a statement. 

The July 9-13 visit comes against a backdrop of rising tensions in Russia after a short-lived rebellion led by Prigozhin shook President Vladimir Putin’s authority. Infighting is spreading within Moscow’s security establishment as the Russian president moves on senior players thought to have supported the mutiny.

Read more: Putin’s bid to reassert Kremlin authority is showing cracks 

Fighters from the Wagner mercenary group, meanwhile, may be about to regroup en masse in Belarus, where they’ve been promised a warm welcome by President Alexander Lukashenko, a Putin ally.   

In Vilnius, a focus will be on Ukraine and whether members of the military alliance set out a clear path for the warn-torn nation to eventually join Nato, as Zelensky has urged.   




CIA chief calls war in Ukraine ‘corrosive’ for Putin’s regime

The invasion of Ukraine has had a “corrosive effect” on Russian society and President Vladimir Putin’s regime, creating an “opportunity” for the US, said William Burns, director of the Central Intelligence Agency. 

The top US spy made rare public comments on Saturday, delivering a lecture at the Ditchley Foundation in Chipping Norton, northwest of London. 

“Disaffection with the war will continue to gnaw away at the Russian leadership, beneath the steady diet of state propaganda and practised repression,” Burns said.

For US intelligence that’s created “a once-in-a-generation opportunity”, he said, adding, “We’re not letting it go to waste.”  

Burns said the CIA recently made its first video post on Telegram, the social media and messaging site developed and widely used in Russia, to let Russians know how to contact it on the “dark web”. 

“We had 2.5 million views in the first week, and we’re very much open for business,” he said. 

Looking ahead, Burns said it was “a mistake to underestimate Putin’s fixation on controlling Ukraine and its choices”. 

Yet the “strategic failure” of the war had consigned Moscow to being “a junior partner and economic colony of China being shaped by Putin’s mistakes”, he said. 

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Burns called his Russian counterpart after the failed Wagner mutiny to emphasise that the US was not involved in stoking the chaos.   

The call with Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s foreign-intelligence service, is believed to be the highest-level contact between the two governments since the attempted uprising by the militia group led by Prigozhin. 

“As President Biden has made clear, this is an internal Russian affair, in which the United States has had and will have no part,” Burns said in Saturday’s speech. 

Burns also made an unannounced visit to Kyiv in June — before the Wagner rebellion — for meetings with Ukrainian intelligence and Zelensky, The Washington Post reported, citing US officials. DM 


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