Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has made what appears to be his first video appearance since the failed rebellion against the Kremlin last month.
What’s he up to now?
The video shows Prigozhin welcoming his fighters to Belarus and praising them for “doing a lot for Russia” while lamenting the situation at the front as a "shame."
Prigozhin addresses Wagner fighters in new video. “It has been decided that we will be here in Belarus for some time… we will make Belarus the second greatest army in the world. And we will stand up for them, if necessary” pic.twitter.com/xNjCFm23jQ— Jack Margolin (@Jack_Mrgln) July 19, 2023
“Welcome lads... Welcome to Belarusian soil,” he says in the video shot in semi-darkness and published on a Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel.
"Now, what is happening at the front is a disgrace in which we should not participate. We should wait for the right moment to present ourselves fully."
What are they going to do while they’re waiting?
Prigozhin tells his fighters they will be based in Belarus "for some time" and won’t be returning to Ukraine anytime soon and should instead prepare for operations in Africa.
"We are preparing, raising our level, and embarking on a new path to Africa, and perhaps we will return to the 'special military operation' when we are certain that we will not be forced to compromise ourselves and our combat experience," he said.
Prigozhin also said they will help make the Belarus's army the "the second-best army in the world, and if necessary, we will stand up for them."
What does Belarus think about this?
They seem very OK with it – on Thursday the Belarusian defence ministry confirmed instructors from Wagner have begun training the ex-Soviet country's special forces.
“Despite the rain, it's hot at the Brestsky training ground,” the Belarusian defence ministry said in a statement, releasing pictures of masked fighters in combat gear.
“Over the course of a week, special forces units and representatives of the company will practise combat tasks at the Brestsky training ground,” the ministry said, referring to Wagner.
Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko offered Prigozhin refuge in Belarus and said his army would benefit from the combat experience of Wagner commanders.
Last week Minsk said that the defence ministry and Wagner had worked out a “road map” on sharing experience and that the instructors started training territorial defence forces.
How many Wagner fighters are in Belarus?
Exact numbers are not known but on Wednesday, the "Hajun" monitoring group reported the arrival of a number of Wagner convoy in Belarus, nine in total.
"The 7th column of the 'Wagner' PMC was moving in the direction of Bobruysk. It consisted of at least 50 units of Prigozhin's mercenary equipment, including pickup trucks, at least 2 PAZ buses, KamAZs, and Urals with awnings, as well as at least 8 'loaves' and trucks."
The eighth column of "Wagnerians" consisted of 100-150 vehicles, including pickups, 'loaves,' awning Urals and KamAZs, 2 minibuses, PAZ buses, cargo GAZs, and engineering/construction equipment.
Eyewitnesses noted the presence of numerous 'Ivanovets' construction cranes, trucks, as well as passenger cars and pickup trucks.
In the evening, the monitors reported that the 9th column of Prigozhin's mercenaries was moving along the M5 highway from Bobruysk in the direction of Osypovych. The convoy consisted exclusively of trucks, totaling at least 30 units, some of which were pulling two trailers. Most of the trucks in the convoy were without license plates.
"According to our observations, some trucks that were part of convoys with other vehicles of PMC 'Wagner' have later returned to Russia," noted the monitors.
"Hajun" assumes that the trucks might be transporting cargo, unloading it at the camp in the village of Tsel, and then returning to the Russian Federation or being used for the next batch of cargo.
The exact nature of the cargo being transported in the trucks is unknown, as all trucks are covered and of different colors.
What does Ukraine think of this?
In response to the arrival of Wagner fighters in Belarus, Lieutenant General Serhii Naev, the commander of the United Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, stated: "We are aware that mercenaries of the 'Wagner' PMC have recently arrived on the territory of Belarus.
Nevertheless, we are taking proactive measures and creating conditions that make the state border of Ukraine completely impassable for enemy forces."
Nayev highlighted that in the Chernihiv region, they have dug more than 40 km of anti-tank trenches in one direction, and laid over 30,000 various mine traps for enemy forces.
"If they attempt to set foot on Ukrainian soil with their dirty boots, death will be their fate.
“We will further reinforce sections of the state border with non-explosive and explosive barriers, which will come as a surprise to the enemy."
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