Law enforcement agencies in Belarus arrested 33 militants from the Russian private military company (PMC) “Wagner”overnight on July 29, reports the state-owned Belarusian news agency BelTA.
Update: According to RBC, Russian writer Zakhar Prilepin confirmed that there are men who served in his battalion in the Ukrainian Donbas among the Russian citizens arrested in Belarus.
All of the detainees are Russian citizens. While one of the suspects was arrested in southern Belarus, the other 32 were arrested outside of Minsk.
According to BelTA, Belarusian law enforcement agencies received information about more than 200 militants arriving in Belarus “to destabilize the situation during the election campaign.”
The group of Russian militants initially stayed at a hotel in Minsk, before moving to a sanatorium in the Minsk region, BelTA reports.
“The visitors drew attention to themselves through behavior uncharacteristic of Russian tourists and [their] uniform, military-style clothing. They didn’t drink alcohol, didn’t visit places of entertainment, [and] kept themselves apart, trying not to draw attention to themselves. They carefully studied the sanatorium’s property and surroundings in small groups,” BelTA’s report says.
The Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) arrested the suspects with the help of special police units. The Belarusian Investigative Committee is now conducting an inquiry in connection with these Russian citizens.
Belarus is set to hold presidential elections on August 9. Incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko (Alyaksandr Lukashenka), who has been in power since 1994, is running for his sixth consecutive term in office. The country has seen mass protests and the persecution of opposition candidates ahead of the election.
In June 2020, the Belarusian news outlet TUT.by published a selection of similar stories about reports of militants being captured in Belarus ahead of elections or protests. A similar incident was most recently reported in March 2017.