Kremlin denies 'insinuations' on Russian mercenaries detained in Belarus

Clay Curtis
July 30, 2020

Ravkov later said that Belarus has opened a criminal investigation into the preparation of terrorist attacks in connection with recent detentions.

"Thirty-three have been detained, there are up to 200 or thereabouts on the territory (of Belarus)", Ravkov said. "The search continues. It is like a needle in a haystack".

Belarus's KGB security service said the detained men were members of the Wagner group, a shadowy private military firm reportedly controlled by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin which promotes Moscow's interests in Ukraine, Syria and Libya.

President Alexander Lukashenko is seeking a sixth term in the August 9 election amid opposition protests fueled by public fatigue with his rule and a painful economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, presidential candidates were summoned by the country's election commission, where Ravkov informed them of tightened security at campaign events.

Belarus detained the alleged mercenaries after receiving information that more than 200 fighters had entered the country to destabilise it ahead of a presidential election, the state-controlled Belta news agency said.

Speaking an emergency meeting of his security council, Lukashenko said he did not want to "smear" ally Moscow but added it was important for Russian Federation to come clean.

"If these are indeed Russian citizens... we must immediately contact the Russian officials and demand that they explain what is going on", Lukashenko said at the emergency meeting of national security chiefs broadcast by local channels.

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"The meeting in the Belarusian Foreign Ministry has been coordinated for the first half of the day", Mezentsev said, refusing to provide any other comment prior to the talks.

Russian Federation is Minsk's closest political and economic ally but relations have been strained.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said "all is well" with the Russian president.

It also reported that the alleged militants gave themselves away because unlike ordinary Russian tourists, they did not drink. "They kept to themselves in order not to attract attention", Belta said, adding that the men stayed at one of the country's spas.

Radio Free Europe noted that other belongings captured on camera included Sudanese currency and a Sudanese phone card, suggesting the men may have been en route to Africa.

Update: According to RBC, Russian writer Zakhar Prilepin confirmed that there are men who served in his battalion in the Ukrainian Donbas among the Russian citizens arrested in Belarus.

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