Wagner’s mercenaries are training Belarusian special forces just a few kilometers from the border with NATO member Poland.
Warsaw said it was ready for “various scenarios as the situation unfolds” as it began moving around 1,000 of its own troops towards the border earlier this month.
Wagner’s boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, appeared in a video on Wednesday welcoming his fighters to Belarus, telling them they would take no further part in the Ukraine war for now, but ordering them to gather forces for Africa while they trained the Belarusian army. Prigozhin, who agreed to move to Belarus as part of a deal to end a mutiny by his forces that unsettled Russian President Vladimir Putin last month, said what is happening with Russian forces on the Ukraine front is a ” shame” and that his group wants “no part of it.
Minsk posted photos of masked Wagner instructors, their faces covered in accordance with the mercenary group’s rules, training Belarusian soldiers with armored vehicles and what appear to be drone controls. “The armed forces of Belarus continue joint training with the fighters of the Wagner PMC (Private Military Company),” the Belarusian Defense Ministry said.
“During the week, units of special operations forces together with representatives of the Company will carry out combat training tasks at the Brest military range.” That range is just three miles (5 km) east of the Polish border.
According to the claims of a senior Wagner commander, known by his nom de guerre “Marx”, which was republished by Wagner’s Telegram channel, up to 10,000 fighters “have gone or will go” to Belarus. Although the accuracy of that statement is difficult to verify.
Poland’s Defense Ministry said the country’s borders were secure. In response to Warsaw reinforcing its border, the Kremlin tried to paint it as an “aggressive” move, even though Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine was the ultimate genesis of it.
“Of course it is cause for concern. Poland’s aggressiveness is a reality,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said. “Such a hostile attitude towards Belarus and the Russian Federation requires increased attention. [from our side].”
As part of the deal that ended Wagner’s 24-hour uprising, which involved the group’s forces marching on Moscow, eventually halting some 125 miles from the capital, the mercenaries could move to Belarus in exchange for their withdrawal. the charges against you. Putin said the fighters could leave for Belarus, come under the command of the Defense Ministry or return to their families.
The episode exposed cracks in the Russian leader’s authority, nearly 18 months into an invasion the Kremlin originally assumed would only last a few weeks. While Putin has tried to put business as usual on the air, rumors of discontent in the Russian military over the situation in Ukraine have reached the service in a way rarely seen in the tightly controlled world of the Kremlin.
The mutiny began after weeks of complaints from Prigozhin about the state of the war, though he has been careful to say his anger is directed at Russia’s top military commanders and the country’s defense ministry, not at Putin himself. He believed that his fighters were not being supported in the fierce fighting around the symbolic city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.
Wagner has lost 22,000 of his men in the Ukrainian war while 40,000 have been wounded, according to the Wagnerian commander “Marx”. If accurate, those numbers give an idea of the extent of the losses both sides are suffering in the war. The commander said in his post that a total of 78,000 Wagner’s men had taken part in what he called “the business trip to Ukraine,” 49,000 of them prisoners.
Wagner helped Russia illegally annex Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has fought ISIS in Syria and operated in the Central African Republic and Mali in recent years.
“Up to 10,000 fighters have gone or will go to Belarus,” the commander said. “About 15,000 have gone on vacation.”
The post contradicted comments by a Russian who said as many as 33,000 Wagner fighters had signed contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry.
“If all the dead and those who went on vacation signed up, I guess it’s possible,” Commander Marx said.
Reuters contributed to this report