In a television interview on August 27, Vladimir Putin stated that the Russian nationals arrested outside Minsk last month were lured to Belarus as part of a special operation by Ukrainian and U.S. intelligence agents.
Belarusian officials arrested 33 Russian nationals on July 29, identifying them as members of the “Wagner” PMC. Belarusian authorities initially said the men planned to stage riots supposedly in collusion with blogger Sergey Tikhanovsky (Siarhei Tsikhanouski) and former presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich (Mikola Statkevich). Russian officials said the men worked for a private security firm and were only in Belarus to catch a plane to Latin America.
On August 14, Belarus returned all but one of the supposed mercenaries to Russia (the 33rd man is a local citizen and stayed behind). No one in the group is expected to face criminal prosecution.
“It’s now obvious: this was an intelligence operation,” the Russian president told Rossiya 24. “They used people in the dark to transfer them to Belarusian territory… They were simply dragged to Belarusian territory and presented as a potential attack force, in order to destabilize the situation during the presidential campaign. It was all completely untrue. These people were en route to another country on business. They were simply lured there and dropped on the other side of the border. Our border guards didn’t let them out, as a matter of fact. They couldn’t have gotten through except on forged documents. This was a special operation by Ukrainian intelligence together with American agents. We’re well aware of that now. Some participants or observers in the process — well-informed people — don’t even hide this,” Putin said in an interview with news anchor Sergey Brilev.
On August 6, the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda first reported that Ukrainian intelligence agents were responsible for luring the Wagner mercenaries to Belarus as part of a special operation. Sources in Ukraine’s security apparatus later confirmed to the publications Ukrainskaya Pravda and Censor.net that more than a year’s preparation went into the special operation. The mission was supposedly designed to drive a wedge between Moscow and Minsk, but it apparently failed due to leaks from the Ukrainian president’s office. Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration says these allegations are disinformation.