As Ukraine started to gear up its military response against Russia, President Vladimir Putin said Sunday that the counteroffensive of Kyiv planned against Moscow’s forces has failed, as he met with his Belarusian counterpart in Saint Petersburg.
Putin met for the first time with his ally Alexander Lukashenko — after Wagner’s failed mutiny late last month — for two-day talks as he helped mediate a deal between the private mercenary group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.
“There is no counteroffensive,” Lukashenko said before being interrupted by Putin: “There is one, but it has failed.”
Both leaders met hours after the Russian army had struck Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa.
In a sign of the importance of the meeting, Putin said he had “changed some of my plans so that talks with Lukashenko could last two days.”
According to the Russian leader, both would discuss “security in our region.”
The President of Belarus now hosts Wagner fighters on his territory, the deal that Prigozhin to end a march on Moscow and exile himself to Belarus.
Lukashenko said Minsk was “controlling” the situation with the Wagner fighters, and restricting them to staying in the center of the reclusive country.
Wagner’s presence in Belarus has rattled EU and Nato member Poland, which has strengthened its border.
Both Putin and Lukashenko accused Warsaw of having territorial ambitions on Ukraine and Belarus, with the Belarusian strongman issuing a veiled threat.
“They are asking to go West, ask me for permission… to go on a trip to Warsaw, to Rzeszow,” Lukashenko said, referring to Wagner fighters, 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 that “they are in a bad mood.”
He thanked Putin for vowing to defend Belarus should it be attacked.
The comments came two days after Putin said western Poland was a gift from Stalin. Lukashenko accused Poland of trying to “rip off a western chunk” of Ukraine.
He also accused Poland of bringing mercenaries to the border, saying he had “brought him a map of moving armed forces of Poland to the borders of the union state”.
The comments came after Warsaw summoned the Russian ambassador over Putin’s Poland remarks.
After their talks, Putin and Lukashenko greeted crowds in the naval town and base of Kronstadt on Kotlin Island in a rare walkabout.
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 strictly since the pandemic, Putin replied: “People are more important than quarantine.”
Several days after Wagner had ended its mutiny last month, Putin met with adoring crowds in Dagestan in an apparent show of popularity.