(Reuters) – Ukrainian and Polish officials said on Saturday that fighters from the Wagner group had arrived in Belarus from Russia, a day after Minsk said the mercenaries were training the country’s soldiers southeast of the capital.
“Wagner is in Belarus,” Andriy Demchenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s border agency, said in a statement on messaging app Telegram. He said the movement of “separate groups” from Russia had been detected in Belarus.
Two sources close to the fighters told Reuters that some Wagner fighters have been in Belarus since at least Tuesday.
The Belarusian Defense Ministry released a video on Friday, showing what it said were Wagner fighters directing Belarusian soldiers at a military field near the town of Osipovichi.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wagner’s move to Belarus was part of an agreement that ended the group’s attempted insurrection in June — when they took control of a Russian military headquarters, marched on Moscow and threatened to plunge Russia into civil war.
Wagner Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has not been seen in public since he left the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don late on June 24.
Warsaw also has confirmation of the presence of Wagner fighters in Belarus, Deputy Minister for the Coordinator of Special Services of Poland Stanislav Zarin said.
“There could be several hundred of them at the moment,” Zarin said on Twitter.
Poland said this month it was strengthening its border with Belarus to counter potential threats.
While Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko did not send his forces into Ukraine, he did allow Moscow to use Belarusian soil to launch its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and has since allowed his country to be used as a base for Russian nuclear weapons.
The Belarusian Hagun Project, which monitors military activity in the country and which Belarusian authorities consider an extremist formation, said a large convoy of at least 60 vehicles entered Belarus on Friday night from Russia.
It said the vehicles, including trucks, vans and buses, had license plates for the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in what is internationally known as eastern Ukraine. In a move widely condemned as illegal, Moscow moved last year to annex the republics, which have been proxies of Russia since 2014.
It appeared that Wagner’s column was headed for Cell in central Belarus, where foreign correspondents were shown last week a camp with hundreds of empty tents, Hagon said.
Reuters could not independently verify Hagun’s Belarusian report. There was no immediate comment from Russia or Belarus on these reports.
Written by Lydia Kelly in Melbourne and Mark Trevelyan in London;
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