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Ukraine live briefing: Belarus says Wagner training its troops; Pentagon says group no longer significant in Ukraine

The Russian mercenary group Wagner, which conducted a brief but dramatic rebellion against the Kremlin last month, is now training troops in neighboring Belarus, the Belarusian Ministry of Defense said Friday. “The fighters of Wagner PMC acted as instructors in a number of military disciplines,” it said in a statement, outlining how Belarusian conscripts were learning to “master the skills of moving on the battlefield and tactical shooting,” from Wagner instructors. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday said there was no imminent threat of an invasion from Belarus.

It comes as the Pentagon has assessed that Wagner is no longer “participating in any significant capacity in support of combat operations in Ukraine,” according to Pentagon press secretary, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin dismissed the group’s existence telling national media that “‘Wagner’ does not exist! … There is no such legal entity” and suggested its fighters should reassemble under another leader.

Here’s the latest on the war and its impact across the globe.

Russia fires top commander in Ukraine who criticized Defense Ministry: Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov, who commanded one of Russia’s elite military forces in Ukraine, was abruptly dismissed after criticizing the leaders of the Defense Ministry, accusing them of “treacherously and vilely decapitating the army at the most difficult and tense moment.”

His removal lays bare the divisions in Russia’s armed forces, as Putin grapples with the aftermath of last month’s Wagner mercenary rebellion that posed the greatest challenge he has faced as Russia’s leader, report Robyn Dixon, Catherine Belton and Francesca Ebel.

“The split is continuing in the army,” said Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected political consultant. “There is dissatisfaction among a significant part of the top brass. Of course this undermines morale in the army.”

Mary Ilyushina, Natalia Abbakumova and David L. Stern contributed to this report.

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