Ambiguity surrounds Wagner Group's presence in Belarus

World News
2023-07-08 | 06:36
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Ambiguity surrounds Wagner Group's presence in Belarus
Ambiguity surrounds Wagner Group's presence in Belarus

In a remote camp in Belarus, the smell of freshly cut wood fills the air, where it may eventually become a shelter for Wagner fighters following their short-lived rebellion against Russian military leaders last month.

After the intervention of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, the Kremlin reached an agreement with Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin to end the rebellion and transfer them to neighboring Belarus with some of his men.

However, on Thursday, Lukashenko cast doubt on this agreement, stating that Prigozhin and his fighters were not on Belarusian territory.

Leonid Kastsienski, an official in the Belarusian Ministry of Defense, said, "If you're looking for them, you won't find them here," as he walked through the site in central Belarus with foreign journalists who received a rare invitation to this heavily controlled country to interview Lukashenko.

Surrounding him were 300 empty tents, capable of accommodating about five thousand people, except for one where some guards could be seen resting.

Kastsienski explained that the tents were set up in preparation for planned exercises in the fall.

Speculation grew about the possible use of the camp by Wagner fighters after satellite images surfaced in media reports showing construction activities there shortly after the rebellion.

Lukashenko denied information suggesting that Belarus was building a new facility but stated that he offered previous military sites, including the site in Tsekh, to Wagner.

Kastsienski said, "Since the base is ready, it may be offered to Wagner."

The potential arrival of thousands of Russian fighters from the Wagner Group has divided the local population in the town of Asipovichy near Tsekh.
Wagner fighters have been accused of committing violations in several countries, including Ukraine, the Central African Republic, and Syria.

A woman who refused to disclose any personal details out of fear of reprisal said, "I feel scared... I want peace and I want my children to grow up. That's all I can say."

Since the protests in 2020 rejecting his reelection, Lukashenko has increased the suppression of critical voices.

On the other hand, other residents said they were not concerned.

Elena Vinglienskaia, 54, said, "I have no fears. If it must happen, then it must happen."

Belarus itself has a controversial history with Wagner.

In the period leading up to Lukashenko's reelection in 2020, Belarus arrested around 30 Wagner fighters on charges of conspiring to destabilize the country.

Since then, the Wagner Group has emerged from the shadows, especially during the attack on Ukraine.
Recently, Prigozhin acknowledged that he founded this private army and became one of the harshest critics of senior military officers in Russia.

His fighters led the battle of the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, which revealed tensions between Prigozhin and the military.

These tensions reached their peak with Prigozhin's armed rebellion on June 23 and 24, posing the biggest challenge to the authority of Russian President Vladimir Putin so far.

Vinglienskaia said that Wagner's presence in Belarus "may be another means of protecting the population."

This opinion was agreed upon by Kastsienski, who said, "I don't see any reason to have problems with the Wagner Group."

He clarified to journalists, "We will not compete with anyone. We will benefit from their unique combat experience."

However, many aspects of the agreement that led to the end of the rebellion and allowed Lukashenko to play a strong mediator role remain unclear.

Kastsienski said, "The final decision on their location is up to Wagner and its leaders."


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