Lukashenko says demands by Poland and Baltics for Wagner to quit Belarus are 'stupid'

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Lukashenko visit the Valaam Monastery in the Republic of Karelia

(Reuters) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said demands by Poland and the Baltic states for the withdrawal of Russia's Wagner mercenary group from Belarus were "groundless and stupid", Belarusian state news agency BELTA reported on Thursday.

BELTA quoted Lukashenko as saying that opposition to Wagner's presence in Belarus was unjustified as long as foreign troops are stationed in Poland and the Baltics, which are all members of NATO.

Wagner, whose leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash in Russia last week, relocated some of its fighters to Belarus under a deal brokered by Lukashenko to end a brief mutiny by the mercenary army against the Russian defence establishment in June.

Poland and its neighbours see Wagner's presence in Belarus as a security threat, and Warsaw in response has moved some of its own troops eastwards towards the Belarus border.

BELTA quoted Lukashenko as saying that Poland and the Baltics had no right to complain about Wagner in Belarus as long as they had "even one foreign serviceman" on their soil.

"In the meantime, these are groundless and stupid demands," he said.

Belarus said in late July that Wagner members had started training its special forces at a military range just a few miles from the border with Poland.

Lukashenko has said his army will benefit from being trained by Wagner, which fought for Russia in some of the most intense battles of the Ukraine war and completed the capture of the city of Bakhmut, after months of fighting, in May.

(Writing by Felix Light; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)