Mercenaries disguised as spa guests join the Belarusian police network. They should sabotage the election on August 9, they are accused.
The guests in the sanatorium at the gates of Minsk were so inconspicuous that they attracted attention. The 32 Russian citizens between the ages of 24 and 55 had done almost nothing in their few days in the idyllic forest sanatorium “Belorusochka”. They were neither interested in alcoholic drinks and contacts with the spa guests, nor did they take advantage of the offers from cardiologists and pulmonary specialists.
On Wednesday, the Belarusian secret service KGB appeared in the sanatorium and arrested all 32 Russians directly in their bedchambers. Minutes later, Belarusian television released pictures showing the bound men in their underpants.
The authorities of Belarus see the arrested mercenaries of the private Russian military company “Wagner”. The aim of her trip was to destabilize the situation in the country a few days before the presidential election scheduled for August 9. Among those arrested were snipers, explosives specialists and IT specialists.
The state investigative committee accuses the detainees of preparing mass unrest and generating social hatred and calls for violence against the police. The 32 newsstanders and one who had been arrested in Gomel have been tried to prepare for terrorist attacks, reports the Russian news agency Interfax, referring to the secretary of the Belarusian Security Council, Andrei Ravkow.
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejects the allegations. The detainees were only in transit. Their goal was Istanbul. This can be substantiated with documents including flight tickets, the Moscow Novaya Gazeta spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs quoted. The Russian ambassador explained that the group had been in Minsk, saying that the group had missed the flight to Turkey.
President Lukashenko doesn’t want to believe that. “Sure, this group had other goals. It is now up to the investigative authorities to find out what the group was aiming for,” said the Belarusian head of state. Investigators are certain that the plane tickets to Istanbul only served as an alibi.
The first statements by the detainees are very contradictory, reported Alexander Agafonow, head of the responsible investigation group. According to Agafonow, eleven of the interviewees were allegedly on the way to Venezuela, 15 on the way to Turkey, two to Cuba and one to Syria. Even if the group had actually missed the flight to Istanbul, they would not have had to wait several days for a new one. In Minsk, the group of those arrested may be part of a larger contingent. According to Ravkov, another 170 mercenaries are said to be in Belarus.
Ukraine has now intervened. The General Prosecutor’s Office in Kiev is demanding the extradition of 28 of those arrested. She accuses them of fighting on the side of the separatists supported by Russia in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian President’s office said that the Ukrainian domestic secret service had gathered sufficient information about the detainees. According to Ukrainian media reports, part of the group is said to have Ukrainian citizenship in addition to Russian.
Sachar Prilepin also admitted that at least some of the detainees actually fought against the Ukraine army. The writer once fought with the gun in hand on the part of the insurgents in Donbass – and among those arrested in Minsk he recognized people from his own troops. He now expects the Russian leadership to commit to its people. Russia should not act as if it had nothing to do with the detainees, said Prilepin on his Facebook page.
Ukrainian columnist Ivan Jakowina from Novoe Wremja does not want to believe that Lukashenko knew nothing about the entry of Russian mercenaries. Lukashenko has long given no importance to his popularity. Now he can only stay in power with the help of security organs. And in the event that his own police should have scruples, he has let Wagner people come to the country.
Because next Sunday Belarus will elect a new president. And if the election is fair, the country could soon be ruled by a president. Three women dispute incumbent Alexander Lukashenko, who has been steering the country with a hard hand for 26 years: Maria Kolesnikowa, Svetlana Tichanowskaja and Veronika Zepkalo.
They all act on behalf of men that Lukashenko has cleared out of the way. Kolesnikova accepted the candidacy from banker Viktor Babariko, who was arrested on June 18. Tichanowskaja is the wife of the popular blogger Sergei Tichanowski, who was arrested after a critical blog entry. Veronika Zepkalo is the wife of the unapproved candidate of the same last name. These elections are characterized by an election campaign that is open to Belarusian conditions. Several tens of thousands of people came to an election event held by Svetlana Tichanowskaja at the end of July.
If the unpopular Lukashenko emerged victorious from the elections, the protests in Minsk could be similar to those in 2013/14 in Kiev. In such a situation, a mercenary assignment would not be unusual. On January 26, 2014, at the height of the protests on the Maidan in Kiev against the then government of Ukraine, two dozen men sat on a passenger flight from Moscow to Kiev, all of whom looked somewhat similar. Everyone had the same short haircut, a sporty figure, well-cleaned shoes, similar military behavior, the same size pockets, and they all acted as if they didn’t know each other.
Mercenaries from the Wagner group have fought in a good twenty countries worldwide, including Sudan, Syria, the Central African Republic and most recently in Libya. The chef is the Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigoshin, who runs several restaurants in St. Petersburg and is also known as “Putin’s cook” because of his good connections to Putin.
The recipes of the Wagner fighters are not always edible. The Novaya Gazeta published photos that members of Wagner with the head of Syrian deserters show. The mercenaries tortured and executed Mohammed Tachaa Ismail al-Abdulla in the Syrian province of Homs in July 2017. Then they separated its head from the torso and had their heads photographed at their feet.