Images Show Construction at a Belarus Military Base. Is It Wagner’s New Home?

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Satellite imagery shows that Belarus is rapidly building what appear to be temporary structures at a deserted military base, revealing a possible location for Wagner fighters who were given the option of relocating to the country after the group’s failed mutiny against President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The construction was first visible in satellite images taken on Monday by Planet Labs, a private company with a network of shoebox-size satellites, two days after Wagner forces suddenly stopped their march on Moscow.

By Tuesday, the images showed that a sports field covering approximately eight acres within the gated military facility had been transformed, packed with at least six rows of what appear to be temporary structures, like large tents. The satellite imagery also shows similar construction in open areas next to the sports field.

The size, color and layout of the structures are similar to other military tent encampments that have been built in Russia and Belarus since early 2022. The images appear blurry because they were taken by Planet Labs’ medium-resolution Dove satellites. The company’s higher-resolution satellites have so far not been able to take a clear image of the site since construction began.

The base is about 80 miles from the Belarusian capital, Minsk, and about 13 miles northwest of the town of Asipovichy, which houses multiple military facilities, including a training ground and ammunition storage site.

The base was formerly used by Belarus’s 465th Missile Brigade, which was formed in 1988 and relocated closer to Asipovichy in 2018. The unit is the only such Belarusian brigade to have Russian Iskander missiles, according to William Alberque, a nuclear weapons expert for the defense and security think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies. The Iskanders are capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear warheads.

A Planet Labs satellite image from mid-June showed that the field at the former base was completely empty, and little or no activity in other areas of the base.

There have been no official announcements about where the Wagner mercenaries would be housed in Belarus or when they would travel there, and it is unclear if or when they will leave Russia or the battlefield in Ukraine. The Wagner troops were also given the option of joining the Russian military by July 1.

But an independent Russian news outlet, Verstka, on Monday first reported Asipovichy as a location to house the Wagner fighters. And the base also matched details given by President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus in a statement on Tuesday in which he described where the Wagner fighters could be housed.

“We did offer them one of the abandoned bases. There is a fence, everything is there, go ahead, set up tents,” Mr. Lukashenko said. “We will help with what we can.”

At some point after the base was vacated, the Asipovichy regional government included 31 buildings at the base in a real estate listing, including barracks, canteens and workshops.

In total, the listing said, the buildings sit on 37 acres of land. The posting said they were being given away for business development; the listing still appears to be active.

Sumber: www.nytimes.com

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