Belarus Announces Joint Military Maneuvers With Russia's Wagner Mercenaries

Belarus says its soldiers have begun holding joint military maneuvers with fighters from Russia's Wagner mercenary group in the city of Brest, which lies on the border with NATO member Poland.

According to a July 20 statement from the Defense Ministry, "through the course of a week, special operations units, together with representatives of the [Wagner] company, will work out training and military goals on the Brest military training field."

The ministry said more details would be made public later.

The statement comes a day after Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who led the mercenary group's aborted mutiny last month, appeared in a video in Belarus welcoming his fighters and saying they would help to turn the country's army into the second-best in the world.

The fate of Wagner troops has been unclear since Prigozhin led a short-lived mutiny on June 23-24, the biggest threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 23 years in power.

The authoritarian ruler of Belarus and Putin's close ally, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, was involved in talks ending the mutiny by agreeing with Prigozhin and Putin to host the Wagner troops, and their leader, in Belarus.

Days after Lukashenka’s statement, a tent camp began to appear in the eastern village of Tsel, a former garrison for members of a Belarusian missile brigade.

An analysis of satellite images by Skhemy (Schemes), an investigative project run by RFE/RL, estimates there are at least 485 vehicles near the tent camp in total.

The images from the Planet Labs service show almost all the equipment is located near warehouse-like buildings, as well as the parking lot of the military camp. No heavy military equipment can be seen.

The Belaruski Hayun Telegram channel, which monitors the movement of military equipment on the territory of Belarus, said it registered at least six columns of military vehicles and equipment with Wagner and Russian national flags in the country’s eastern region of Mahilyou since July 11.

On July 20, a former leader of Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, Igor Strelkov (aka Girkin), wrote on Telegram, citing a Wagner commander under the nom de guerre Marks, that the total number of Wagner fighters in Belarus may reach 10,000.

Wagner troops played a key role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, helping take main parts of the town of Bakhmut after nearly 10 months of intense fighting. Prigozhin has said he lost 20,000 men during the Bakhmut operation.

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Key Words: Russia, Belarus, Wagner Group, Ukraine, Russo-Ukrainian War

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