Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has reportedly kicked the Wagner PMC out of Belarus, after refusing to finance the Russian mercenaries.
Wagner forces left Russia for Belarus as part of a settlement deal brokered by Lukashenko following the armed mutiny on June 24 that saw Wagner’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin turn on his boss, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But reports have now emerged suggesting Lukashenko has refused to finance their stay in the country and the mercenaries are being "bussed" back to Russia for a “vacation.” According to the VChK-OGPU Telegram channel, operations to remove all Wagner Group men began earlier in the month, with a second phase to remove the rest going into effect this weekend.
Wagner’s services don’t come cheap. Putin recently admitted that the Kremlin has spent around $1bn on the private military company last year, using state budget funds. Previously the Kremlin denied all knowledge of Wagner.
VChK-OGPU said the men headed for Russia are mercenaries that rejected re-assignment to Libya, where the Group has been operating for years.
"A source of the Cheka-OGPU said that after the meeting of PMC Wagner, everyone who did not sign up for a business trip to Libya was urgently sent on vacation to Russia,” VChK-OGPU posted on its channel. “Right now, mercenaries in Belarus are packing their bags and going back to Russia on vacation. At the same time, everyone was asked to stay in touch with PMCs, since at any moment a certain command from above could follow." Earlier Lukashenko said that the Wagner forces would be used to train the Belarusian army.
The presence of Wagner in Belarus has seriously worried Poland and the Baltic states, as following a successful eight-month long campaign to take the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, Wagner fighters have won a reputation for military ferocity and effectiveness.
Tensions along the Belarus-Poland border have ratcheted up steadily over the last year and reached a fresh high when Belarusian military helicopters flying along the border briefly violated Polish airspace last week.
Warsaw and Vilnius see potential threats posed by Belarusian military exercises and the presence of the Wagner Group in Belarus. Poland is planning to move up to 10,000 additional troops to the border with Belarus to support the Border Guard.
Ukraine has also heavily fortified its border with Belarus over the last eight months to prevent a second invasion from the north by Russian troops based in Belarus.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki met with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda in Suwalki, Poland on August 3 and discussed the challenges posed by the Suwalki Corridor, an area separating Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast from Belarus and considered to be a military weakness.
Morawiecki emphasised the need for increased vigilance among Nato allies due to the high potential for provocations by Belarus following the helicopter incident.
Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski announced that all necessary measures, including isolating Belarus and closing the border, are being considered to protect Polish territory and citizens.
Lithuania has also decided to shut down two border checkpoints with Belarus due to the presence of Wagner Group mercenaries on Belarusian territory.
In the midst of escalating tensions between Belarus, Poland and Lithuania, Belarus initiated military exercises on its borders with Poland and Lithuania, near the Suwalki Gap.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry stated that these drills were inspired by Russia's conflict with Ukraine and would involve the use of drones and co-ordinated efforts between various military units.
Nato spokesperson Oana Longescu commented on Wagner's presence in Belarus, mentioning that Nato has not observed an immediate military threat. However, the alliance is closely monitoring the activities of the Wagner Group in the region.