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Ukraine’s former president confirms Kyiv’s involvement in bringing suspected Russian mercenaries to Belarus

Source: Channel 5

Ukraine’s former president Petro Poroshenko has confirmed that the 33 suspected Russian mercenaries from the Wagner PMC who were arrested in Belarus back in July were lured from Russia as part of a special operation carried out by the Ukrainian intelligence services. Poroshenko made this statement during an interview with Ukrainian TV’s Channel 5 on Wednesday, December 30

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 private military company (PMC), maintaining that they had come to Belarus to instigate mass riots on behalf of the opposition amid the 2020 presidential elections. 

Russian diplomats in Belarus insisted that the Russian citizens were employees of a private security company, who were transiting through Belarus on their way to do contract work in another country. In mid-August, 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, but this request was ignored. According to media reports, several of the alleged mercenaries fought on behalf of the Russian-backed separatists in the war in Eastern Ukraine.

According to Poroshenko, he personally authorized this operation as commander-in-chief at the end of 2018; after Volodymyr Zelensky became president, “specific individuals” in the Ukrainian leadership betrayed the operation, causing it to fall through.

Poroshenko also called for the creation of a special investigative commission to look into the reasons behind the operation’s failure and punish those responsible.

In August, the independent Ukrainian newspaper Ukrainska Pravda and the Ukrainian outlet Censor.net reported that according to their sources, Ukraine’s Security Service (the SBU) had been planning an operation to arrest Wagner group fighters involved in the war in Eastern Ukraine and put them on trial. Their sources claimed that the SBU had attempted to lure the mercenaries back to Ukraine, but they were prematurely arrested in Belarus due to an alleged information leak that came from within the President’s Office. According to Ukrainska Pravda and Censor.net, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky refused to investigate the leak attributed to his circle.

Before this was reported in the Ukrainian press, the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that according to a source in Russian intelligence, the SBU organized the alleged Wagner group mercenaries’ trip to Belarus in an attempt to worsen relations between Moscow and Minsk.

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