At least 15 of the 33 Russian citizens arrested in Belarus have been confirmed as mercenaries with ties to the private military company (PMC) “Wagner,” according to documents published by the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
The documents identify the “group’s leader” is 42-year-old Alexey Sapronov, who has been working for the Wagner PMC since 2014. The most well-known combatant among the detainees is Andrey Bakunovich — according to Novaya Gazeta, he appeared in an expert report on the situation in Libya, which was presented to the UN Security Council in April 2020.
At least seven of the fifteen arrested mercenaries that Novaya Gazeta identified fought in Syria, while three were involved in the war between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Belarusian law enforcement arrested 33 suspected mercenaries from the Wagner group during the night of July 29, claiming that they had come to Belarus to destabilize the country ahead of the upcoming presidential elections (scheduled for August 9).
Russia’s Ambassador to Belarus maintains that the Russian citizens were transiting through the country and ended up on layover after missing their flight out of Minsk. The Russian Ambassador referred to them as “employees of a private security company,” claiming they were on their way to do contract work in another country.