Belarusian authorities say 33 suspected Russian mercenaries have been arrested in the country ahead of the August 9 presidential election, believed to be contemplating “terrorism.”;
Russia is seeking clarification on the arrests, a Kremlin spokesman said.
Dmytro Peskov stated that he knew nothing about the plot or Wagner’s paramilitary group, in which Belarus suspects its involvement.
President Alexander Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and is running for a sixth term.
He exercised authoritarian control over Belarus in a Soviet-style style and faced a wave of opposition protests over his re-election candidacy.
Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Andrei Ravkov said investigators suspected that 200 Russian mercenaries had entered the country to “destabilize the situation during the election campaign.”
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The Investigative Committee (IC), which is considering the case, says it is investigating possible links between suspects in Russia and a man in the prison of opposition presidential candidate Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Popular opposition blogger Syarhei Tsikhanouski is accused of trying to stir up riots despite being in prison. He also faces other charges.
“Tsikhanouski, [Mikola] Statkevich and 33 detained Russian citizens – they acted together, “- said the reporter of the IC Sergei Kabakovich, reports AFP.
Mr. Statkevych, a veteran opposition activist, is also in prison.
Andriy Ravkov said that 14 of the detained Russians fought in the conflict in Donbas in Ukraine, describing their presence in Belarus as “a very unpleasant situation.”
UN investigators, the US military and journalists have documented Wagner’s operations in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Sudan and the Central African Republic. The Russian government denies any ties to the group.
The Belarusian state news agency Belta named all 33 Russian suspects and indicated their dates of birth.
Meanwhile, the Security Service of Ukraine’s Security Service states that it plans to seek the extradition of Russians so that they can be prosecuted for alleged crimes in eastern Ukraine.
Russia is under international sanctions for its military involvement in Ukraine, although the Kremlin denies arming pro-Russian separatists in Donbas.
More about Wagner’s group:
The statement of the IC states that on Wednesday the authorities “arrested 33 citizens of the Russian Federation, members of PMK” Wagner ” [private military company]who were in the sanatorium “Belorusochka” in the Minsk area “.
Video footage of the group’s arrest showed that they were carrying Sudanese currency and a Sudanese phone card. Wagner’s group is known to be active in Sudan, and it has been suggested that it used Belarus as a transit country for African operations.
In Moscow, Mr Peskov said on Thursday: “We know that 33 Russians were detained in Belarus yesterday. Two hundred are still at large. We do not know of any illegal activities that could be grounds for their detention.”
He also stated that in Russia there is no “such concept” as Wagner’s APC.
“There are already insinuations that some organizations from Russia are sending someone to destabilize the situation in Belarus. Or, of course, this is nothing but insinuations,” he said.