Satellite imagery analyzed by The Associated Press on Saturday showed what appeared to be a newly built military-style camp in Belarus, with statements from a Belarusian guerrilla group and officials suggesting it could be used to house fighters from the Wagner mercenary group.
Images provided by Planet Labs PLC suggest dozens of tents have been erected in the past two weeks at a former military base on the outskirts of Osipovichi, a town 230 kilometers (142 miles) north of the Ukrainian border. A satellite photo taken on June 15 shows no sign of the rows of white and green structures that are clearly visible in a later image, dated June 30.
Wagner’s boss Yevgeny Prigozhin and his fighters escaped prosecution and were offered refuge in Belarus last week after Minsk helped broker a deal to end what appeared to be an armed insurrection by the mercenary group. The aborted revolt saw Wagner’s troops who had fought alongside Russian forces in the Ukraine capture a military headquarters in southern Russia and march hundreds of kilometers (miles) toward Moscow, seemingly unhindered.
Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko said his country, a close ally and dependent on Moscow, could use Wagner’s expertise and experience, announcing that he had offered fighters an “abandoned military unit” to set up camp. .
Aliaksandr Azarau, leader of the ex-military BYPOL anti-Lukashenko guerrilla group, told The Associated Press by phone Thursday that a site for Wagner mercenaries was being built near Osipovichi.
Up to 8,000 fighters from Wagner’s private military force may deploy to Belarus, a spokesman for Ukraine’s border force told Ukrainian media on Saturday. Speaking to the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper, Andriy Demchenko said Ukraine would strengthen its 1,084-kilometre (674-mile) border with Belarus in response.
Lukashenko previously allowed the Kremlin to use Belarusian territory to send troops and weapons to Ukraine. He has also welcomed the continued Russian armed presence in Belarus, including joint military camps and exercises, as well as the deployment of some of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons there.
Demchenko told Ukrainska Pravda on Saturday that about 2,000 soldiers from regular Russian army units remained stationed in Belarus as of this week.
Speaking at a gala on Friday night to mark Belarus’ Independence Day, Lukashenko said the Belarusian armed forces could benefit from training Wagner members, saying mercenaries “were not a threat” to Belarusians.
He also stated that he was “sure” that Belarus would not have to use the nuclear weapons deployed on its territory and would not get directly involved in Moscow’s war against Ukraine.
“The longer we live, the more convinced we are that (nuclear weapons) should be with us, in Belarus, in a safe place. And I am sure that we will never have to use them as long as we have them, and the enemy will never set foot on our soil,” Lukashenko said.
Wagner’s boss cannot trust Lukashenko: the head of the opposition of Belarus
NATO Eastern European allies say Wagner’s troops in Belarus mean trouble
subscribe to ASK MORE to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer and over 70 other titles, share up to 5 devices, listen to the news, download from 4am and share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.
For comments, complaints or inquiries, Contact Us.