Belarus may have created a government-backed private military company similar to Russia's infamous mercenary Wagner Group, according to Valeriy Sakhashchyk, defense and security representative of the leader of the Belarus opposition in exile Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Called Gardservis, the security service company has "significantly increased" the number of employees and is preparing to participate in military operations, Sakhashchyk said in a comment to Deutsche Welle.
According to Sakhashchyk, Gardservis' staff has been training for several months at several Belarusian training grounds.
"I know that officers of the 5th Special Forces Brigade (based in Belarusian Minsk Oblast) train Gardservis employees at their training ground," he said. "In addition, the company has taken over the base of the former Dynamo special training center, where intense actions are also taking place."
According to Sakhashchyk, currently, the company may have more than 1,000 mercenaries.
Deutsche Welle also reported, citing an unnamed official, that Gardservis workers could be used in sabotage and reconnaissance groups and also for assault operations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has invested "a lot" in Gardservis and is creating a "Belarusian equivalent of Wagner Group from it," Sakhashchyk said.
Wagner Group is a private military formation run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close confidant of Putin. A shadowy organization composed of contractors who are paid to fight wars outside of the official military, Wagner is infamous for its brutal tactics and has been linked to evidence of war crimes in conflicts around the globe.
Russia deployed the mercenaries to eastern Ukraine to help make up for its own military's heavy losses, the U.K. Defense Ministry reported in late March. They are currently involved in the offensive operations in Donetsk Oblast in the east of Ukraine.