September 11 – September 17, 2023
Security issues

Is the government trying to emulate the business model of PMC Wagner?

The situation has not changed
Is the government trying to emulate the business model of PMC Wagner?

Amidst visible evidence of the ongoing dismantling of the PMC Wagner camp in the village of Tsel, Belarus’s private security company GardService, which has close ties to the government, has become more active. Although there’s no concrete proof of a mass transfer of PMC Wagner members to GardService, it’s clear that the government is attempting to replicate the business approach of the PMC Wagner in its dealings with African countries.

In the village of Tsel, near Osipovichi, the process of dismantling the Wagner tent camp is ongoing. Prior to August 23, about 100 tents out of approximately 273 had been taken down. From August 23 to September 9, about 60 more tents were removed. This dismantling is occurring throughout the camp, and some of the vehicles have been relocated to the northern section to replace the tents. However, the overall number of vehicles remains unchanged.

Despite rumors suggesting that groups of PMC Wagner members may have flown to Africa or even returned to Russia by bus, there is still no solid confirmation of these claims. The decrease in their numbers is only indirectly evidenced by the ongoing dismantling of tents in the Tsel camp.

As of mid-August, there were an estimated 4,000-4,500 PMC Wagner mercenaries in Belarus, although the initial capacity of the base camp was intended for 8,000-10,000 mercenaries. While it’s possible that some mercenaries have left Belarus, the number of their equipment in the Tsel camp has remained largely constant over the past month. There have been no significant movements of PMC Wagner members across Belarus in August, and the last time any such movements were observed was on August 27, with no recorded movements during the first week of September. This suggests that some of the mercenaries may have been relocated to renovated barracks.

In the backdrop of these developments, Ukrainian sources report that PMC Wagner members have started to join the government-affiliated private security company GardService. Allegedly, GardService is offering these mercenaries opportunities to work in one of the central African countries, guarding facilities and training local military personnel. However, there is currently no independent confirmation of this claim. What is known is that GardService has initiated recruitment efforts for contract employees to work in a central African country, where their responsibilities would include guarding facilities and training local military personnel. It’s worth noting that cooperation between the PMCs Wagner and GardService began in 2022 when PMC Wagner members started training ordinary employees of the Belarusian security company to become instructors. Evidently, the government sees value in having the experienced and highly-trained Wagner fighters stay in Belarus and join the ranks of its security forces and military. However, it appears that the Kremlin has not yet made a final decision regarding the fate of the PMC Wagner members in Belarus, which explains statements about maintaining the core of the PMC Wagner in Belarus and strengthening it with an additional 10,000 fighters if deemed necessary.

It seems that the Belarusian authorities are attempting to emulate the Wagner PMC’s model in establishing relationships with African states. This is evident, in part, through the involvement of Alexander Zingman, a well-known businessman and close associate of Viktor Sheiman, one of GardService’s overseers, in negotiations with African countries. Zingman recently participated in discussions between Lukashenkа and the President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, in both limited and expanded formats.

As Belarus seeks to expand its cooperation with countries in distant regions, it is increasingly focusing its attention on African nations. To this end, a delegation of defense attachés from 14 African states was invited to Minsk to explore Belarus’s potential for military cooperation. Representatives from these African countries had the opportunity to visit military educational institutions, enterprises in the military-industrial complex, and industrial sectors, as well as experience Belarus’s cultural heritage.

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Once a week, in coordination with a group of prominent Belarusian analysts, we provide analytical commentaries on the most topical and relevant issues, including the behind-the-scenes processes occurring in Belarus. These commentaries are available in Belarusian, Russian, and English.

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