Belarus law enforcement agencies on Wednesday said they had received information on more than 200 fighters arriving in Belarus, more than 30 of whom were detained and identified as fighters from the private military company Wagner, a shadow company believed to be backing in St. Petersburg. businessman Jevgenijus Prigožinas.
Prigozhin is a Russian oligarch, often called “Putin’s boss” because of his close ties to the Kremlin. Wagner’s fighters have previously been deployed in Ukraine, Syria and Libya, among other places.
Belarusian state television published a video of the raid, which depicts several men detained in a hotel room. One man is shown handcuffs pointing down to the bed. The video also showed the detainees ’personal belongings, including passports, U.S. dollars, other foreign currency, and phones.
Prigozhin’s Concord group has repeatedly denied that Prigozhin belongs to Wagner, in a comment posted on their VKontakte social media page late Wednesday. Prigozhin “has nothing to do with Wagner, does not fund them and does not track their whereabouts,” the report said.
Prigožin was sanctioned in the U.S. for funding an Internet research agency that, according to U.S. intelligence agencies, interfered in 2016. U.S. presidential election.
Lukashenko is accused of playing politics
Belta has published a list of all the names of the detained men. Belarus State Security Committee detained the suspects with the help of special police units. The Belarusian Committee of Inquiry has launched an inquiry.
According to Belta, Lukashenko said he was demanding an explanation from Russia. The Russian embassy in Belarus said on Twitter that it had received an official notification of the arrest from the authorities. The Russian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Russian writer Zachar Prilepin, who previously fought for separatists in eastern Ukraine; side, wrote on his Facebook page that he recognized several men serving in his battalion, among those arrested in Belarus. He suggested that the men were likely to go through Belarus to fight elsewhere, and that their detentions were used in Lukashenko’s favor before the election.
“In fact, there are several former fighters from our battalion (which no longer exist, I may recall.) It is also well known that people who fought or fight in the Donetsk and Luhansk republics also fight in different places, they also go to Syria and other warmly warring countries, ”wrote Prilepin.
“But if the Belarusian leadership starts using this story for its own purposes, it will definitely look ridiculous. It looks like a well-known story when well-trained people move to certain places where they have their business, they don’t need Belarus,” Prilepin added. I am sure the Belarusian special services are well aware that three dozen men of camouflage went somewhere else. “
Recently, the U.S. military has accused Russia of sending Wagner mercenaries, along with weapons such as anti-aircraft systems, to operate on the front lines of the Libyan conflict. The US African leadership has also released satellite images showing Wagner vehicles and Russian military equipment in Libya supporting anti-government insurgents in the country’s civil war.
“Russia is using the Wagner Group as a representative in Libya to establish a long-term presence in the Mediterranean,” the African leadership said in a statement.
“They continue to try to establish themselves in Libya,” Brig said. In his statement, Deputy Director of Intelligence General Gregory Hadfield notes.
Among the items seized by the men, confiscated by authorities at a hotel, was a document written in Arabic depicting a prayer used by a Muslim Sunni religious order called al-Qadiriyya, popular among Muslims in Arab countries in North Africa. The document and foreign currency found in their belongings suggest that the fighters may have gone to another location through the Belarusian capital.
“Visitors drew attention to themselves because they behaved uncharacteristically because of Russian tourists and wore uniforms, military-style clothing. They did not drink alcohol, did not visit any places of entertainment, [and] he kept away from everyone to try and not draw attention to himself, ”the Belta report said.
The Russian senator and colonel, Alexei Kondratyev, with the army’s GRU intelligence unit, said the details of the detention should be “verified and the law enforcement of both countries must cooperate in this,” the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.