Belarus wants exiled Wagner officers to use their experience in Ukraine to make its own army more deadly

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Belarus wants exiled Wagner officers to use their experience in Ukraine to make its own army more deadly
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (l) with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, February 17, 2023Vladimir Astapkovich, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
  • Belarus' president said Wagner, which launched an armed uprising in Russia, could help his country.
  • He said Wagner fighters could give its army advice on "tactics, and weapons, and how to attack, how to defend."
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The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, wants commanders from the Wagner mercenary group to share their experience with his military, after Russia said they could go to the country following their brief uprising against the Kremlin over the weekend.

Belarusian state news agency Belta reported that Lukashenko met with his defense minister, Viktor Khrenin, and told him that Wagner commanders can "help us" by sharing their experiences of fighting in the front line in Ukraine.

"Now there is a lot of talk and chatter: 'Wagner, Wagner, Wagner'. People do not understand that we also approach this pragmatically," he said, according to a translation by Ukrainian news outlet Pravda.

He said that Wagner commanders can "come to us and help us" by sharing their experience in Ukraine.

"They will tell us what is important now," he said, pointing to areas like drone warfare.

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"They will tell us about the weapons: which worked well, and which did not," he said. "Tactics, and weapons, and how to attack, how to defend. It is priceless. This is what we need to take from the Wagner fighters."

'There is no need to be afraid of them. We keep our ears sharp," he added.

The Wagner Group is known for its brutal tactics and is accused of war crimes in Africa, where it also has fighters.

Defectors from the group in Ukraine have said its troops commited attrocities there, including one former Wagner mercenary who said he killed and tortured dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war.

Over the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Wagner fighters that they could go to Belarus after the group staged an armed uprising last week.

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After months of being on the front line of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Wagner fighters took over the military headquarters in the key southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on Saturday, and began marching towards Moscow.

This followed Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin increasingly feuding with Russia's top military officials, who he accused of trying to destroy his group.

But in a dramatic turnaround, Lukashenko announced on Saturday evening that he had successfully brokered a peace deal between Putin and Prigozhin.

On Tuesday Lukashenko said he had convinced Putin not to "destroy" the Wagner Group, while telling Prigozhin that he would be "crushed like a bug" if he kept going towards Moscow.

The Kremlin said the deal involved Prigozhin going into exile in Belarus. Lukashenko said on Tuesday that Prigozhin had arrived in Belarus' capital, Minsk.

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Belarus, Russia's neighbor and closest ally, is run by Lukashenko, a dictator who has been in power since 1994.

Russia used the country as one of its staging posts for the invasion of Ukraine, and Belarus has allowed Russian ballistic missiles to be launched into Ukraine from its territory.

The countries have also undertaken joint training exercises, though Belarusian troops have not been deployed in Ukraine, and UK intelligence noted in March that its army is "much less-experienced" than Russia's.

It's not clear what the future of Wagner fighters looks like in the country.

Russian media outlet Verstka reported that Belarus is constructing a base for around 8,000 Wagner fighters 124 miles from its border with Ukraine.

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But the Washington DC-based Institute for the Study of War said on Monday that Putin may have presented Belarus as a haven for Wagner fighters as a trap.

It said that "the Kremlin will likely regard the Wagner Group personnel who follow Prigozhin to Belarus as traitors whether or not it takes immediate action against them," and that the Kremlin's grip over Belarus likely means authorities in Belarus will follow Russia's lead regarding the group.

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