Lukashenko wants to meet with the attorneys general of Russia and Ukraine to negotiate a solution to the ‘mercenaries’ arrested in Minsk
Alexander Lukashenko (Alyaksandr Lukashenka) has invited the attorneys general of Russia and Ukraine to visit Minsk to assist in the hearings of 33 arrested Russian nationals, whom Belarusian officials say are mercenaries from the “Wagner” private military company.
On July 29, the Belarusian authorities arrested 33 Russian nationals. Officials in Minsk say these men planned to incite mass unrest ahead of the country’s presidential election on August 9. According to the authorities, arrested and unregistered presidential candidate Sergey Tikhanovsky (Siarhei Tsikhanouski) and former presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich (Mikola Statkevich) were part of the plot. Russian diplomats have identified the arrested “mercenaries” as private security guards.
The Belarusian president says he wants the three countries’ top prosecutors to meet in order to “put a stop to all this idle talk about these 33 so-called warrior heroes,” explaining that Belarus will proceed with its case against these men based on domestic and international law. Lukashenko also threatened that Belarusian officials will “solve the problem ourselves” if Russia or Ukraine declines to send its attorney general.
In a telephone call a day earlier, on August 5, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked Lukashenko to extradite to Kyiv any of the supposed Wagner mercenaries who fought in eastern Ukraine. At least three of the men now in custody in Minsk reportedly fit this description. That same day, in an interview with Ukrainian Journalist Dmitry Gordon, Lukashenko promised to “greenlight” extraditions of the Russian nationals to both Russia and Ukraine.
Moscow and Kyiv have both reacted to Lukashenko’s extradition remarks. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry says it has filed a formal request to receive the arrested Russian nationals who fought in the Donbas. Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, says the suspects should be returned to Russia. “Allow us to repeat once more: there is no evidence that these men in custody are guilty,” she said on Thursday, August 6.