Their arrest came as a surprise. Was Russia really using mercenary soldiers to overthrow the leader of its closest ally?
Everyone knew relations between Moscow and Alexander Lukashenko were strained, but this seemed extreme.
That was the claim originally made when 33 members of the ‘Wagner’ Private Security Company were detained by the KGB in Belarus.
State news agency Belta alleged that law enforcement sources said they’d received information about the arrival of more than 200 Russian militants on Belarusian territory to destabilize the situation during the country’s fraught election campaign.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin says it was all a conspiracy set up by hostile spooks from Kiev and Washington.
“This was a joint operation of Ukrainian and American intelligence agencies. We have it on good authority now,” he said on Thursday. “Some participants in the process – observers, well-informed people – are not even hiding it at this point.”
According to the president, the detained citizens were headed for Latin America and the Middle East for “absolutely legal work.”
“However, they were dragged onto Belarusian territory and painted as a potential force being used to destabilize the situation during the election campaign, which was absolutely untrue,” Putin explained. “I would like to note once again that those people were on their way to work in a third country.”
On July 29, 32 Russian citizens were apprehended near Minsk, and another was detained in southern Belarus.
In his address to the nation and the parliament on August 4, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko insisted the Russians had been deliberately deployed to his country.
However, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed claims that Russia had sent its citizens to Belarus to destabilize the situation in the republic.
Kiev claimed that 28 of the detained Russians had taken part in military activity in the Donbass War in Eastern Ukraine, with criminal proceedings launched against them in the country.
On August 14, Minsk handed over the men to Moscow. Russian Ambassador to Minsk Dmitry Mezentsev later stated that the Russians had been returned in strict adherence with the norms of international law.
Published by Rt.com
Republished by The 21st Century
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