Satellite photos, reports suggest Belarus is building an army camp for Wagner fighters

A satellite image shows apparent recent construction of tents at a former military base surrounded by countryside.
This satellite image taken Friday shows apparent recent construction of tents at a former military base outside the Belarusian town of Osipovichi. As part of a deal to end a rebellion in Russia by Wagner Group mercenaries, Belarus’ president says he offered the fighters an “abandoned military unit” to set up camp.
(Planet Labs via Associated Press)
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Satellite images analyzed by the Associated Press on Saturday showed what appeared to be a newly built military-style camp in Belarus, with statements from a Belarusian guerrilla group and officials suggesting it may be used to house fighters from the Wagner mercenary group.

The images provided by Planet Labs suggest that dozens of tents were erected within the last two weeks at a former military base outside Osipovichi, a town about 140 miles north of the Ukrainian border. A satellite photo taken June 15 shows no sign of the rows of white and green structures that are clearly visible in a later image, dated June 30.

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and his fighters escaped prosecution and were offered refuge in Belarus last week after Minsk helped broker a deal to end what appeared to be an armed insurrection by the mercenary group. The abortive revolt saw Wagner troops who had fought alongside Russian forces in Ukraine capture a military headquarters in southern Russia and march hundreds of miles toward Moscow, seemingly unimpeded.


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Belarus’ authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, said his country, a close and dependent ally of Moscow, could use Wagner’s experience and expertise, and announced that he had offered the fighters an “abandoned military unit” to set up camp.

Aliaksandr Azarau, leader of the anti-Lukashenko BYPOL guerrilla group of former military members, told the Associated Press by phone Thursday that construction of a site for Wagner mercenaries was underway near Osipovichi.

Up to 8,000 fighters from Wagner’s private military force may be deployed in Belarus, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s border force told Ukrainian media Saturday. Speaking to the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper, Andriy Demchenko said Ukraine would strengthen its 674-mile border with Belarus in response.

Lukashenko previously allowed the Kremlin to use Belarusian territory to send troops and weapons into Ukraine. He has also welcomed a continued Russian armed presence in Belarus, including joint military camps and exercises, as well as the deployment of some of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons there.

Demchenko told Ukrainska Pravda that as of last week, some 2,000 troops from regular Russian army units remained stationed in Belarus.

At a Friday evening gala marking Belarusian Independence Day, Lukashenko said that the Belarusian armed forces could benefit from training by Wagner members, and asserted that the mercenaries were “not a threat” to Belarusians.


He also declared that he was “sure” Belarus would not have to use the nuclear weapons deployed to its territory, and would not get directly involved in Moscow’s war against Ukraine.

“The longer we live, the more we are convinced that [nuclear weapons] should be with us, in Belarus, in a safe place. And I am sure that we will never have to use them while we have them, and the enemy shall never set foot on our soil,” Lukashenko said.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials reported more civilian casualties from Russian shelling in the country’s east and south on Saturday, as Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez began a visit to Kyiv as a show of continuing support from Madrid and the European Union for Ukraine’s fight to dislodge invading Russian forces.

In an address to Ukraine’s parliament that received several standing ovations, Sánchez said, “We’ll be with you as long as it takes.”

“I am here to express the firm determination of the European [Union] and Europe against the illegal and unjustified Russian aggression to Ukraine,” he said on the day that Spain took over the six-month rotating presidency of the 27-nation EU.

At a later news conference with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Sánchez announced that Spain would deliver more heavy weaponry to Ukraine, including four Leopard tanks and armored personnel carriers, as well as a portable field hospital. He also said Spain will provide an additional $60 million to help with reconstruction needs.


Elsewhere in Ukraine, regional officials reported that at least three civilians were killed and 17 wounded by Russian shelling on Friday and overnight in the front-line eastern Donetsk region, where fierce battles are raging, Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

Ukraine’s military reported that fierce clashes continued in three areas in Donetsk where it said Russia has massed troops and attempted to advance. It named the outskirts of three cities — Bakhmut, Lyman and Marinka — as front-line hot spots.