Kyiv denies involvement in bringing suspected Russian mercenaries to Belarus
The Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, has dismissed media reports claiming that Kyiv lured suspected Russian mercenaries to Belarus as part of an intelligence operation. In an interview with the Ukrainian outlet LB.ua, he referred to the story as disinformation.
Reports of 33 Russian citizens being arrested in Belarus emerged on July 29. The Belarusian authorities claimed that the detainees were mercenaries from the Wagner PMC, maintaining that they had come to Belarus to instigate mass riots on behalf of the opposition after the presidential elections. Russian diplomats in Belarus insisted that the Russian citizens were employees of a private military company, who were transiting through Belarus on their way to do contract work in another country.
On August 14, 32 of the 33 detainees were deported from Belarus to Russia (the 33rd suspected mercenary had a Belarusian passport, so was allowed to stay in the country).
Previously, Kyiv had demanded that Minsk extradite the detainees to Ukraine. According to media reports, several of them fought on behalf of the Russian-backed separatists in the war in Eastern Ukraine.
“It’s obvious that the version [making claims] about the participation of the Ukrainian special services in the appearance of Russian mercenary-fighters in Belarus on the eve of the elections appeared in Russian media, not in Ukraine, and, in particular, in the Russian [newspaper] Komsomolskaya Pravda on August 6. This looks like a well thought out and planned disinformation campaign,” Yermak said. According to him, this campaign aimed at creating “a split in Ukranian society.”
In turn, Ukraine’s Security Service (the SBU) dismissed reports claiming that their office participated in an operation to arrest fighters from the Wagner PMC as fake. The SBU also underscored that “a Russian publication that came out more than a week ago” was the original source of the fake reports.
On August 6, Komsomolskaya Pravda’s correspondent Alexander Kots reported that according to a source in Russian intelligence, the SBU organized the alleged Wagner group mercenaries’ trip to Belarus.
On August 18, the independent Ukrainian newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, as well as the chief editor of the Ukrainian outlet Censor.net, Yuriy Butusov, reported that according to their sources, Ukrainian intelligence had been planning an operation to arrest Wagner group fighters involved in crimes on Ukrainian territory for over a year. Their sources claimed that the SBU decided to lure the Wagner group mercenaries back to Ukraine, but the operation failed due to an alleged information leak that came from within the President’s Office.