This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Fortifications are being actively constructed near the tent camp of the private Wagner mercenary group in the village of Tsel in eastern Belarus, the site believed to be where troops from Yevgeny Prigozhin’s company have settled after its aborted mutiny in Russia in late June.
Images from the Planet Labs service obtained by RFE/RL show what appear to be trenches being dug out at the Repishcha military test field, 15 kilometers from the suspected Wagner camp. Bulldozers and minibuses can be seen near the construction sites.
Previous images from Planet Labs have shown increasing numbers of pieces of equipment, trucks, and other types of vehicles in Tsel.
Last weekend, Belarus’s Defense Ministry said it plans to carry out military exercises with an artillery brigade at Repishcha that involve instructors from Wagner. Drones will also be involved in the maneuvers.
In recent days Wagner issued a video of what it called the “construction of its fortified camp in a forest.” The trenches in the video were shown equipped with heating devices for winter use. It was not possible to verify the exact site where the video was shot.
Last month, Prigozhin, Wagner’s founder and leader, appeared to be in Belarus in a video welcoming his fighters and saying they would help to turn the country’s army into the second-best in the world.
The fate of Prigozhin and his troops has been unclear since a short-lived mutiny on June 23-24, the biggest threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 23 years in power.
The authoritarian ruler of Belarus and Putin’s close ally, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, was involved in talks ending the mutiny by agreeing with Prigozhin and Putin to host the Wagner troops, and their leader, in Belarus.
Prigozhin has been spotted in Russia since and is suspected of moving between the two countries.
Days after Lukashenka’s statement, a tent camp began to appear in Tsel.
Wagner troops played a key role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, helping take much of the town of Bakhmut after nearly 10 months of intense fighting. Prigozhin has said he lost 20,000 men during the Bakhmut operation.