Twenty-five days after their failed march in Russia and an agreement with Belarus, the mercenaries arrive at the Tsel camp in the center of the country. Some have already started training local troops.
The Wagner group takes up residence in Belarus. Several hundred mercenaries entered this neighboring country of Russia, almost a month after their show of force. As part of an agreement negotiated with dictator Alexander Lukashenko, the fighters had pledged to put an end to their rebellion in order to escape criminal prosecution. The Belarusian leader also offered them to continue their activities in his country “on a legal basis”. The mercenaries then shone with their discretion until last week and the start of convoys on the country’s roads.
“Training sessions with units of the territorial troops are taking place near Osipovichiin the center of the country, the Belarusian Defense Ministry said on Telegram on Sunday. Wagner fighters serve as instructors in a number of military disciplines.” The country’s military television broadcast some images of these sessions, devoted to movement in combat and tactical shooting. Earlier this month, Deputy Defense Minister Leonid Kassinsky, on the Belta.by news site, welcomed the imminent arrival of these instructors, in order to share their experience of the war with the country’s armed forces.
At this stage, these are the only images showing the work of Wagner instructors alongside Belarusian troops. On July 6, Alexander Lukashenko initially rejected on Telegram the request of Western journalists who wanted to visit the mercenary camps. A press visit was finally organized the next day to the disused military base of Tsel, where hundreds of empty tents were lined up. Pressed with questions about the final destination of these shelters, General Kassinsky had not officially confirmed their future occupation by Wagner’s mercenaries.
After this period of hesitation, it is now established that convoys of Wagner joined Belarus. Several images of a convoy have also appeared on social media, including Telegram, with vehicles waving the Russian flag and Wagner symbols. They drove with Russian license plates, but also from the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, underlines on Telegram Belarusian Hayoun, a project dedicated to monitoring military movements in the country.
Four convoys already identified in the country
According to this source, at least four convoys have gone to Tsel since July 11. Around 60 vehicles were escorted by local police on July 15. The existence of these convoys is also confirmed by satellite observations. An image released by the New York Times, in particular, makes it possible to confirm the arrival of another transfer of personnel, Monday, in the military camp of Tsel. This column of vehicles had already been documented by a video broadcast that morning on social networks, southeast of the base. On Tuesday, finally, at least 80 vehicles were located, still on the M5 motorway, unrolling a ribbon of five kilometers.
“According to our information, up to 1,000 Wagnerian soldiers have arrived in Belarus, underlines with franceinfo Aliaksandr Azarau, at the head of the resistance network Bypol, formed of former Belarusian armed forces. They arrived without heavy military equipment.” The number of tents suggests that the camp could house a total of 7,500 mercenaries, according to the calculations of the New York Times. This is only a fraction of the tens of thousands of soldiers estimated at the height of the fighting in Bakhmout.
The fate of Yevgeny Prigojine, moreover, is still shrouded in uncertainty. Alexander Lukashenko initially announced his arrival in the capital, Minsk. But Wagner’s leader has been sighted in Russia and his whereabouts remain unknown.
“An additional threat to the population”
At any rate, “those thousands of private mercenaries have combat experience in Syria and Africa and they killed in Ukrainereacts to franceinfo the journalist Anton Motolko, of the Belarusian group Hayoun. Their arrival poses an additional threat to the Belarusian population, in addition to the Lukashenko regime, which arrests and tortures residents in prison.” According to him, the establishment of a military base reflects the country’s dependence on its cumbersome neighbor. “The Russian army is de facto occupying Belarus since February 20, 2022 and it adds another terrorist group of mercenaries, who will be ready to perform any task for money.”
“At this stage there is no information on the preparation of an offensive against the EU or Ukraineadds Aliaksandr Azarau. The number of these enemy forces is not sufficient.” Ukrainian military intelligence is following the situation with interest: “It does not change our safety”said his spokesman Andrïi Youssov, believing that these fighters had been largely disarmed. The Ukrainian army has nevertheless announced a reinforcement of the border, with trenches and mines.