Belarus said Thursday that instructors from mercenary group Wagner have begun training the ex-Soviet country’s special forces, nearly a month after an aborted rebellion in Russia.
Wagner fighters and their leader were due to move to Belarus as part of a deal to defuse their revolt, which was the most serious challenge to Russia President Vladimir Putin’s power.
“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.
Wagner, which played a key role in the Ukraine offensive, sought to topple Russia’s military leadership during its brief rebellion last month, before backing down.
Belarusian strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko offered Wagner chief Yevgeny 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.
On Wednesday evening, a video emerged purporting to show Prigozhin addressing his fighters in Belarus, in what was the first footage of the mercenary chief since the aborted rebellion.
In the video published by Telegram channels with links to Wagner, Prigozhin said his fighters will be based in Belarus “for some time” and will help make the country’s army the “second army in the world”.
“What’s happening at the front is a disgrace in which we don’t need to take part,” Prigozhin said, adding that Wagner could go back to the front later.
The Polish defence ministry said it was beefing up security at the border following the arrival of Wagner mercenaries in Belarus.
Two Polish brigades have been transferred to sites at the border, the ministry said.
The Kremlin on Thursday said it was “concerned” by the move, pointing to Warsaw’s “hostile attitude” towards both Belarus and Russia.