Belarus’ Law enforcement agencies have detained near Minsk fighters of the private military company Wagner Group, which the West considers the second army of the Kremlin, and Russian media associate with businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a longtime associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to Belta news agency, 33 Russian citizens were detained by the Belarusian KGB group "A" with the support of riot police. The oldest of the detained is 55 years old and the youngest - 24 years old.
In total, according to Belarusian law enforcement officials, 200 Wagner mercenaries were in the country. Their goal was to "destabilize the situation during the election campaign."
They arrived in Minsk on the night of July 24-25, and on Monday, July 27, the group moved to one of the resorts near Belarus capital, where they attracted attention of local residents by uncharacteristic behavior for Russian tourists and monotonous military-style clothes.
Russians did not drink alcohol, did not attend entertainment establishments, kept apart from other resort’s guests, trying not to attract attention, and in small groups carefully studied the territory and surroundings of the resort, Belta notes.
According to Open Media, at least six of those detained fought in the Donbas, with one person being awarded the Order of the St. George Cross of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. One of the detainees, Oleg Driga, born in 1986, was convicted in Russia of shoplifting and was sentenced by the Perm court to a fine of 1000 rubles.
President Alexander Lukashenko, who is preparing to be reelected after 26 years in power, announced last week that foreign fighters could be deployed to Belarus before the elections scheduled for August.
"All wars now start with street protests, demonstrations, then Maidans (Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity)," he said, commenting on the situation in Minsk, where mass rallies have been going on since mid-July because of the Central Election Committee’s refusal to register any of Lukashenko's rivals as candidates.
"During the Maidan Revolution, if there are no participants, they will be pulled from the side. These are professional military, bandits, who are specially trained, mainly in the private military companies around the world, and earn a lot of money on provocations in certain states," Lukashenko said.
On July 14, the Central Election Commission of Belarus refused to register the two most popular presidential candidates, Viktor Babariko and Valery Tsepkalo. Babariko, the former head of Gazprombank's subsidiary in Belarus, was detained along with 16 top bank managers who were charged with money laundering and tax evasion.
About 300 people were detained during the protests, according to the human rights center Viasna. The Belarus Investigative Committee has opened criminal cases on charges of group actions that violate public order, violence and resistance to police officers.