Three tented Russian military camps located within military training areas in Belarus are currently being dismantled. The sites were, until recently, used to house Russian conscripts under training. This information was reported by the Belarussian Service of Radio Liberty, citing an analysis of satellite images provided by Planet Labs.
The three camps under scrutiny are located at the “Lepelsky” training ground in the Vitebsk region, “Repishchi” near Osipovichi, and “Obuz-Lesnovsky” near Baranovichi.
The original tented camps capable of accommodating several thousand personnel, emerged at the Lepelsky and Obuz-Lesnovsky training grounds in October 2022, shortly after Russia announced a new mobilization. The Russian military had previously utilized the Repishchi landfill, and in the autumn of 2022, they established another camp there.
Analysts interviewed by Radio Liberty have put forward several theories to explain why these specific camps were being removed. One theory suggests that Russia already has sufficient locations to conduct training for mobilized forces within its own territory.
Another hypothesis posits that these camps were part of a “deception campaign” intended to create and sustain the fear of potential further attacks on Ukraine from Belarus. With the supposed transfer of Wagner PMC troops to Belarus their presence would serve a similar purpose to distract Ukrainian defenses from the southern and eastern summer offensives.
Other commentators suggest this could simply be a transfer of the facilities from Lepelsky, Repishchi, and Obuz-Lesnovsky elsewhere.
Are the new camps in Belarus for Wagner?
At the same time, other satellite images from June 30 have confirmed the construction of a significant military field camp near the village of Tsel in the Osipovichi district of the Mogilev region. This camp is much larger than previous field camps in Belarus’ with over 300 field tents giving a capacity to accommodate approximately 15,000 personnel. Recent events following Wagner’s attempted mutiny suggest they could be intended for “exiled” Wagner mercenaries.
This was allegedly part of the agreement between the Kremlin, Wagner Boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, and Alexander Lukashenko, that brought the rebellion to an end, which would allow Wagner fighters can “relocate to Belarus at their own [free] will”.
June 30 image of possible field camp on the territory of military unit No. 61732 near the village of Tsel, Osipovichi district of Mogilev region.
Local residents reported that construction activities had begun on the premises of the former military unit in the village of Tsel, located 90 kilometers from Minsk and 20 kilometers from Osipovich, in June shortly after Prigozhin’s “march for justice.”
Satellite images from Planet.com discovered and published by the Belarusian service of Radio Liberty, on June 17 and June 24, the actual day of the Wagner rebellion, show no field camp at the military unit.
However, images taken on June 27, only three days after the mutiny was abandoned, clearly show the appearance of field tents and indications of ongoing construction, such as excavated pits and newly erected structures.
Newly obtained photographs depict many rectangular objects resembling field tents, arranged between the old buildings of the former military unit although there are no signs of large military weapons or equipment.
A view of the central and eastern parts of the field camp in the village of Tsel. June 30, 2023.
Journalists from the Belarusian service of Radio Liberty have counted at least 303 tents within the camp.
During a meeting with security forces on June 27, President Alexander Lukashenko stated that no camps for Russian military private military companies (PMCs) affiliated with Wagner were being constructed in Belarus.
Lukashenko suggested that if the Wagnerians desired to settle in Belarus, they could utilize the old military unit and “set up tents there.”
At the same time, official sources in the public domain have made no mention of a new facility within the former military unit near the village of Tsel, leaving its purpose uncertain.
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