Wagner fighters are reportedly leaving Belarus in droves, just weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin had them exiled in the aftermath of their failed march on Moscow.
The Wagner mercenary unit has dropped from approximately 5,800-strong to 4,400, in part because their income has fallen in recent weeks since moving to Belarus, sources in the country told the National Resistance Center of the Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Some of the fighters are instead going to work in African countries, where Wagner has a more established and enduring presences, according to Kyiv. Others are reportedly going on vacation.
“The regime in Belarus does not yet satisfy Wagner instructors with its level of payment for services, as a result, most instructors do not plan to stay in the country for a long time,” the Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.
The apparent exodus is just the latest in a dramatic chain of events that began in June, when Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin ordered his mercenaries to march on Moscow. At the time, Prigozhin was fed up with the Russian Ministry of Defense’s approach to its partnership with his fighters in the war on Ukraine.
Wagner Men Exiled by Putin Threaten New Firestorm in Europe
Ultimately, the mutiny effort failed, and thousands of Wagner fighters were relocated to neighboring Belarus after a deal was reached between Putin and Prigozhin.
Speculation has been swirling for weeks about whether Wagner fighters will last in Belarus. According to a Russian insider, Wagner was already bussing hundreds of fighters from Belarus to Voronezh, Rostov, and Krasnodar earlier this month.
“Officially, this is called as sending fighters on vacation. However, no one talks about returning to Belarus,” Telegram channel VchK-OGPU said.
That bussing operation was the first phase, according to the source. The second was slated to begin last week.
The exodus from Belarus is likely to continue, according to Franak Viacorka, the chief political adviser of Belarusian democratic opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
“It’s important to understand they are mercenaries they are not ideological supporters of Putin or Prigozhin or Lukashenko… they are there because they receive good salary. While in Belarus, they don’t receive good salary. The salary is many times smaller than during missions,” Viacorka told The Daily Beast. “There is growing disappointment, growing discontent, among Wagner mercenaries. And more and more of them will be asking to leave.”
Wagner Bosses Vow New ‘Beginning’ in Belarus: ‘Welcome to Hell’
The influx of Wagner mercenaries from Belarus to Africa might offer clues about the balance of power between Putin and Prigozhin in the coming days. In Belarus, Putin may be better able to keep close watch over Wagner’s movements through his puppet, Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko, who is host to the fighters.
The reported departure of Wagner fighters might be welcomed news for Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, which have been ringing the alarm bells about threats from Belarus since Wagner mercenaries relocated there. Lithuania just announced it will be closing several of its border crossings with Belarus over possible threats from Belarus.
Poland, which has already closed several border crossings, has raised concerns that Wagner fighters have been training with Belarusian troops and moving closer and closer to Poland’s border, threatening confrontation or provocations. After Belarusian aircraft violated Polish airspace, Poland announced it would be moving thousands more troops to the border, as well as combat helicopters.
Poland has been working to wrap up Russian and Belarusian influence operations targeting Poland as well, a Polish official told The Daily Beast.
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