EU urges caution as mercenary revolt raises doubts about Russian president’s grip on power
Jun 26, 2023, 5:00 AM
BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union ministers urged caution Monday after a failed revolt by mercenaries in Russia raised questions about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power and whether the mercenaries might install themselves just over the border in Belarus.
At talks in Luxembourg, some EU foreign ministers likened the short-lived uprising led by Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin to Putin unleashing a Frankenstein’s monster or ghost of his own creation. Several also noted that many questions remain, including Prigozhin’s precise whereabouts and whether he’s taking troops with him.
Many seemed to agree that a key response to the crisis in Russia was to help Ukraine draw any possible advantage from the situation.
“We are analyzing this carefully,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters. “There are also risks involved, which we are still unable to assess at the moment. For us Europeans, the only thing that matters is to support Ukraine.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting, said that the monster that Putin created with Wagner is “acting against his creator.” He added that ”the political system is showing fragilities, and the military power is cracking.”
“It’s now the moment to support Ukraine, more than ever,” Borrell said.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told reporters that Putin “can’t get rid of the ghosts he summoned, and they’re going to haunt him now.” He cited the revolt as proof that “there are cracks in the power structure” in Russia.
Addressing the ministers by video-link, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged them to take advantage of the latest developments.
“Russia is getting weaker every day. It is critically important now to provide Ukraine with all the weapons it needs,” he said, including artillery and missiles, but also tougher sanctions.
Prigozhin was granted exile in Belarus, just 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Lithuania’s capital Vilnius. It remains unclear what charges he might face, if any. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who brokered the deal, gave few details.
Russian leaders, whether civilian or military, have not commented on the situation.
Wary of the insecurity that this might mean for his country, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said he wants to see “very specific plans” from his allies to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank, including Estonia, Latvia and Poland.
“We’re seeing how fast things can transpire. It took half a day for a military detachment to move 200 kilometers (125 miles) away from Moscow. So imagine, how fast can they do that crossing Belarus and appearing on Lithuania’s border,” he said.
Still, Landsbergis insisted that the West should not be distracted by events in Russia, even if the revolt has revealed “a grey zone” of unpredictability inside the country. “All we have to do is keep focused on Ukraine,” he said.
Wagner troops have played a crucial role in the Ukraine war, capturing the eastern city of Bakhmut, an area where the bloodiest and longest battles have taken place. But Prigozhin has increasingly criticized the military brass, accusing it of incompetence and of starving his troops of munitions.
During the meeting, the ministers endorsed a 3.5-billion-euro ($3.8-billion) top up of a special fund that helps to reimburse any of the 27 EU countries that provide weapons and ammunition to Ukraine. Officials estimate that the EU has provided Ukraine a total of about 75 billion euros ($82 billion) worth of weapons, ammunition, economic and other assistance since Russia invaded in February 2022.
Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.
Associated Press writer Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.,