Photo: indiatoday

By Dipti Yadav: Following the failed mutiny by the private mercenary group in Russia, it is now confirmed by the Belarusian President that the exiled leader of the Wagner group, Prigozhin, has entered Belarus on June 27 after reaching an agreement with Lukashenko. As a part of the deal, Lukashenko invited Wagner to set up operations in his country, but there exists doubt regarding the establishment of Wagner’s military field camps, which was earlier denied by Lukashenko.

To corroborate the recent developments, India Today’s OSINT(Open-Source Intelligence) team utilised Sentinel-2 satellite data from Sentinel Hub since May to reveal some fresh arrangements in the Tsel’ village, which was a former military base in Asipovichy District of Mogilev Region in Belarus somewhere between 24 and 27 June.

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The images suggest a swift construction of a field camp likely for Wagner fighters at the vacant military facility near the town of Asipovichy, about 90 km from Belarusian capital of Minsk. A closer analysis of the satellite images shows minute developments in the playground nearby which is being prepared to accommodate more of such temporary structures.

Low-res satellite imagery from Planet Labs PBC and Sentinel-2
Low-res satellite imagery from Planet Labs PBC and Sentinel-2

The prevailing infrastructure aside the rapid spring up used to be the territory of multiple Belarusian military brigades, the latest one being 465th missile brigade which abandoned the base in 2018 and relocated to the Yuzhny military base.

While Lukashenko has denied the existence of any such recent formations for the Wagner, he has also mentioned that they will be eager to set-up similar preparations if the Wagner troops ask for it. “We offered them one of the abandoned parts. Please – there is a fence, everything is there. Put up tents. We will help in any way we can. Until they decide what to do with it,” he further described the presently allotted area for Wagner troops.

The Asipovichy District Executive Committee’s website has listed the abandoned military camp in Tsel for acquisition after reconstruction and repair. It states the complex of buildings as “a total of 31 buildings with a total area of ​​28389 sq.m.” Also, a link to Public Cadastral Map has been provided for searching the property by its cadastral number.

As per the Belarusian Hajun Project, the ongoing Russia-Belarus military drills have been extended to at least July 2 in Belarus, which interestingly also includes Asipovichski training ground.

Hence, the possibility of the military installation in Tsel village for training drills and encampments for Wagner militia cannot be ruled out.

Upon visual examination, the camp features carved out from the low-res imagery appear to be quite similar to the Russian establishments in Ukraine and Belarus with numerous parked vehicles and temporary camps.

However, considering that the joint drills were already in progress before the structures were initially spotted, it is more probable that these structures are intended for a temporary presence of the Wagner group.

As per The Moscow Times, a Telegram channel named Belarus Golovnovo Mozga had previously shared the testimonies of local residents who witnessed “strange activity” near the campsite involving a “large number” of construction workers. They also alluded to a document which indicated that “about 1,780 four-bed bunks and 400 two-seat toilets” were required to be set up the next day.

Citing the reports of independent Russian news outlet Vyorstka, the camps are expected to accommodate 8,000 fighters, as revealed by the relatives and friends of the Wagner fighters.

As the sporadic assembly remains a mystery, Wagner’s relations with Russia are still stuck in a conundrum whereby the mercenary group will no longer fight in Ukraine as Prigozhin denied signing the Ministry of Defence contract for all private armies involved in the tussle a few days back, which is considered to be one of the reasons for the short-lived coup.

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