Wagner Group Arrives in Belarus, Raising Concerns of Foreign Influence

Fighters from the Wagner group, a Russian mercenary organization, have reportedly arrived in Belarus from Russia, according to officials from Ukraine and Poland. This comes a day after Belarus confirmed that the mercenaries were providing training to the country’s soldiers southeast of the capital. The Ukrainian border agency’s spokesperson, Andriy Demchenko, stated that “Wagner is in Belarus,” noting the observation of movement from “separate groups” from Russia to Belarus. Two sources close to the fighters also confirmed that some Wagner fighters have been in Belarus since at least Tuesday.

In a video released by the Belarusian defense ministry on Friday, Wagner fighters were shown instructing Belarusian soldiers at a military range near the town of Osipovichi. Russian President Vladimir Putin explained that Wagner’s presence in Belarus was part of a deal that ended the group’s mutiny attempt in June. This mutiny involved the mercenaries taking control of a Russian military headquarters, marching on Moscow, and threatening Russia with civil war. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the Wagner group, has not been seen in public since he left Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on June 24.

Poland’s deputy minister coordinator of special services, Stanislaw Zaryn, confirmed the presence of Wagner fighters in Belarus, estimating that there may currently be several hundred of them. In response to potential threats, Poland recently announced the reinforcement of its border with Belarus. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, though not sending his own troops to Ukraine, allowed Russia to use Belarusian territory for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Belarus has also served as a base for Russian nuclear weapons.

Reports from the Belarusian Hajun project, an organization monitoring military activity in the country, stated that a large column of at least 60 vehicles entered Belarus from Russia overnight on Friday. The vehicles, including trucks, pickups, vans, and buses, bore license plates from the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics in eastern Ukraine. Moscow annexed these republics last year, a move condemned as illegal. The Hajun project indicated that it seemed a Wagner column was headed to Tsel in central Belarus, where foreign reporters were previously shown a camp with empty tents. However, there has been no independent verification of these reports, and there have been no immediate comments from Russia or Belarus.

It is unclear what the exact intentions of the Wagner fighters in Belarus are, but their presence raises concerns about potential destabilization in the region. The arrival of mercenaries in another country could have serious implications, given the role they have played in conflicts such as Ukraine. The situation calls for increased attention and monitoring from international actors to ensure stability and peace in the region.