The Russian Wagner Group is said to have begun building a tent city at the Zyabrovka airfield in Belarus, which is around 15 kilometres from the Ukrainian border.
According to the Ukrainian National Resistance Centre, the plan is to house 1,000 mercenaries suspected of engaging in “subversive activities” in the Chernihiv region.
Ukraine retains control of this particular territory, while Wagner has a history of conducting activities near other countries’ borders.
The Institute for the Study of War, for example, has documented Wagner conducting military training exercises near Brest, a large city in Belarus, about a kilometre from the Polish border.
British General Sir Richard Barrons has stated that the group serves as a “very powerful instrument” for the Russian government, provided it is effectively controlled.
He has told Sky News that if the group’s influence is on the rise again, then the rumoured subversive actions are not surprising.
In recent times, there has been a noticeable rise in military actions along the border between Poland and Belarus.
However, General Barrons reassured that Poland doesn’t need to be overly anxious.
He said: “There really isn’t any military capacity in Belarus that Poland is going to be worried about today.”
Meanwhile, Belarus has initiated military manoeuvres near its borders with Poland and Lithuania. This action comes at a time when tensions are already elevated between these two NATO member countries and Belarus due to the presence of Wagner mercenaries, who relocated to Belarus from Russia following a brief mutiny.
In response to the arrival of Wagner fighters in Russia-aligned Belarus, both Poland and Lithuania have enhanced their border security measures.
These fighters, who were involved in an armed rebellion that concluded in late June, were granted immunity from legal consequences along with their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Leaders from the NATO nations, Poland and Lithuania, have expressed their readiness for potential provocations from Moscow and Minsk, particularly in the sensitive region where the borders of these countries converge with Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry stated that the ongoing drills, which began on Monday, draw on lessons from what Russia terms as “special military operations” – a reference to its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.
The ministry elaborated that these exercises encompass the deployment of drones and the close coordination of tank and motorized rifle units with other branches of the armed forces.
The military exercises occurred within the Grodno region of Belarus, situated in close proximity to the area known as the Suwalki Gap. This relatively unpopulated stretch of land spans 96 kilometers (60 miles) along the border shared by Poland and Lithuania. It serves as a link connecting the three Baltic countries – Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia – with the broader NATO alliance.
Additionally, the Suwalki Gap acts as a dividing line between Belarus and Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea that is heavily fortified but lacks a direct land route to mainland Russia.