Nearly thirty suspected Russian mercenaries in “military-style clothing” have been arrested in Belarus on charges of destabilizing the country ahead of the upcoming presidential election.
State media report that 33 people were taken into the Wagner prison, a private military company linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin. Prigozhin is a Russian businessman accused in the U.S. of not interfering in 2016. U.S. presidential election. Wagner sent hundreds of contractors to conflict zones such as eastern Ukraine, Syria and Libya.
“The guests drew attention to themselves because they did not behave in the same way as tourists from Russia usually behave, and wore military-style clothing,”; Belta news agency reported on Thursday, Reuters reported.
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The suspected mercenaries, who officials say are accused of planning terrorist activities, arrived in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on July 24. And was arrested on Wednesday while touring the resort.
A senior Belarusian security official also said 14 detainees had spent time in Ukraine’s Donbass region, where Russian-backed militants have been engaged in a territorial dispute since 2014, Reuters reported.
Images, reported on state television, showed the group was rounded in underwear, and images of one person’s items included a Russian passport and military-style patches.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is seeking his sixth term on August 9. In the election, opposition protests caused public fatigue over his domination and a painful economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic. He accused Russian forces of obstructing the upcoming vote, but Moscow denied any involvement.
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After arresting the suspected mercenaries, Lukashenko demanded an official explanation.
“There is an urgent need to ask the relevant Russian structures to explain what is happening,” Lukashenko said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed on Thursday that 33 Russian citizens had been detained in Belarus and said Moscow hoped to receive more information about the incident.
“There is no information about the Russian offenses that could have led to the arrest. We don’t know anything about it, “Peskov said, calling the accusations” nothing but insight. “
But Andrei Ravkov, secretary of the Belarusian security council, said the country’s law enforcement was currently looking for more Russian contractors within its borders.
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“There are up to 200 fighters on our land,” Ravkov said on Thursday. – Investigations continue. It’s like a needle in a haystack. “
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry also invited Russian Ambassador to Belarus Dmitry Mezencev on Thursday morning. At the same time, presidential candidates were informed about the increased security at campaign events.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.