Russia has again rejected any connection between the Belarusian opposition and Russian citizens recently detained in Belarus. According to Minsk, these are mercenaries who have been given the task of destabilizing the situation before the upcoming presidential election. The dispute over alleged Russian mercenaries has deepened, according to Reuters, as the two sides provide different explanations for their presence in Belarus.
Footage of the arrest of 32 men whom Belarus has identified as Russian mercenaries Video: Reuters
Relations between Russia’s and Belarus’s former allies deteriorated when the countries did not agree on an oil and gas contract on which Belarus depends on supplies.
A group of 33 Russian citizens was detained in Belarus this week, and Minsk rejected Moscow’s explanation that they were people who were just passing through Belarus and were in fact heading to other countries. According to Moscow’s announcement on Thursday, they are employees of a private security service who got stuck in Belarus when they missed a flight to Istanbul. Russian diplomats met with them on Saturday.
However, the head of the Belarusian investigators, Alexander Agafonov, said on Friday evening that the Russians did not plan to continue elsewhere. In an interview on ONT television, he stated that the statements of individual Russians did not agree. According to Agafon, 11 of them said they wanted to fly to Venezuela, 15 to Turkey, two mentioned Cuba and one Syria. Another said he knew nothing about his next destination and three declined to comment.
Reuters also reported that the detention of a group of men in camouflage uniforms just before the August 9 election will put a strain on Russian-Belarusian relations.
The candidacy of Sviatlana Cichanouska, the wife of the president’s opponent Sjarhei Cichanousky, is promising. Belarusian authorities say the detainees are connected to the Cichanous, so he is suspected of inciting unrest.
According to RIA Novosti, Moscow has denied any connection between the detainees and the Belarusian opposition. According to its Friday statement, the Kremlin expects 33 Russian citizens to be released. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov spoke of “unwarranted detention.” Russian diplomats met with the detainees.
According to the Belarusian authorities, there are still up to 200 Russian mercenaries in the country, who are looking for members of the security forces. According to the Belarusian state media, the detainees worked for Vagner’s so-called private military company, which is at war in the interests of Moscow in Ukraine, Syria, Libya and elsewhere. The Russian state has repeatedly denied using mercenaries.