Ukraine Says It Is Ready for Arrival of Wagner Troops in Belarus

Yevgeny Prigozhin

Ukrainian officials have tried to tamp down concerns while heralding their preparations, with President Volodymyr Zelensky nodding to plans for reinforcing the border.

As Belarus has ratcheted up its messaging about plans to offer refuge — and possibly work — to Wagner group mercenaries after a failed rebellion in Russia, Ukrainian forces say they are ready for any potential threat from their neighbor to the north.

In recent days, Ukrainian officials have tried to tamp down concerns about the Wagner forces, who until recently were fighting for Russia in Ukraine, while heralding preparations for their possible arrival. President Volodymyr Zelensky — who on Saturday was hosting Spain’s prime minister as part of his continuing diplomatic push — nodded to plans for reinforcing the border in his nightly address on Friday and top commanders have emphasized that no current threat had been found.

Mr. Zelensky indicated that Ukrainian intelligence was monitoring the situation closely, adding, “We very carefully analyze every fact and any prospects in all directions.” Ukraine’s top generals were “instructed to strengthen the northern direction — to guarantee peace,” he said.

This week, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the Kremlin-aligned autocratic leader of Belarus, invited members of the Wagner group who had participated in a rebellion against Russian forces to relocate to an “abandoned” military base in his country. New satellite imagery from Thursday and Friday, analyzed by The New York Times, shows that more than 250 tents, enough to house thousands of troops, have been erected in the past five days at an unused base.

Mr. Lukashenko also said that Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner group, had arrived in Belarus after the failed rebellion against Russian forces. But Mr. Prigozhin has not been heard from publicly in a week, and his whereabouts have not been independently confirmed.

The invitation has made many in Ukraine once again wary of Belarus and has drawn condemnation and warnings from NATO leaders about the potential threat on their doorstep from a group that has earned a reputation for ruthless violence.

Belarus was a key staging point for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Russian troops poured across the border before withdrawing across it months later.

Russia continues to use Belarus as a training ground for its forces and to launch airstrikes on Ukraine. But there are no Russian offensive units in Belarus, and there has been little indication that Mr. Lukashenko would deploy Belarusian troops to Ukraine.

Read more…