Ukraine, Poland say Wagner fighter jets have arrived in Belarus

July 16 (Reuters) – Fighters from the Wagner group have arrived in Belarus from Russia, Ukrainian and Polish officials said on Saturday, a day after Minsk said the mercenaries were training the country’s soldiers southeast of the capital.

“Wagner is in Belarus,” Ukrainian border agency spokesman Andriy Demchenko said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app. He said the movement of “separate groups” from Russia was seen in Belarus.

Some Wagner fighters have been in Belarus since at least Tuesday, two sources close to the fighters told Reuters.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry released a video on Friday showing Wagner fighters instructing Belarusian soldiers at a military range near the town of Osipovichi.

Wagner’s move to Belarus was part of a deal that ended the group’s attempted insurgency in June — when they seized control of Russian military headquarters, marched on Moscow and threatened to plunge Russia into civil war — President Vladimir Putin said.

Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has not been seen in public since leaving the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on June 24.

Warsaw has confirmed the presence of Wagner fighters in Belarus, said Stanislaw Zarin, deputy ministerial coordinator of Poland’s special services.

“There are probably several hundred of them at this point,” Zarin said on Twitter.

Poland said this month it was strengthening its border with Belarus to counter potential threats.

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While not sending its own troops to Ukraine, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko allowed Moscow to use Belarusian territory to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The Belarusian Hajun program, which monitors military operations in the country and is seen by Belarusian authorities as a terrorist organization, arrived in Belarus overnight on Friday from Russia, with at least 60 vehicles.

The vehicles, including trucks, pickups, vans and buses, had license plates from Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, which are internationally recognized as eastern Ukraine. Moscow moved last year to annex the republics, which have been Russian proxies since 2014, in a move widely condemned as illegal.

A Wagner column appears to have gone to Disel in central Belarus, where foreign reporters were shown a camp with hundreds of empty tents last week, Hajun said.

Reuters could not independently verify the Belarusian Hajun report. There was no immediate comment from Russia or Belarus on the reports.

Written by Lydia Kelly in Melbourne and Mark Trevelyan in London;

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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