The Kremlin demanded Belarus release Wagner Group mercenaries detained in Belarus in an alleged plot to disrupt the coming presidential elections. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has repressed opposition candidates over the last year in a bid to retain power. Many analysts believe the arrests had more to do with creating a narrative of sedition than an actual nefarious plot.
“But we hope, certain even, that our Belarusian colleagues will deal with this incident and release the Russian citizens,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “Without doubt, unfounded apprehension of Russian citizens, and 33 citizens at that, does not quite fit the parameters of allied relations, there is no two ways about it,” reported Russian state news agency TASS.
“This is why we hope that this incident will be clarified by our Belarusian allies as shortly as possible, and our citizens will be released,” Peskov reiterated.
According to Peskov, Kremlin is “highly concerned that consular access to the apprehended Russians has still not been provided.”
“We hope that this will happen shortly,” the spokesman said.
“Now we can say with certainty that the Russian citizens were transiting Belarus; they were supposed to fly to a third country, and their stay is connected neither to Belarus itself, nor its internal affairs,” Kremlin spokesman said, adding that the apprehended Russians are employees of a private security company, who were late to their plane and expected another flight.
“They had plane tickets to Istanbul,” Peskov said. “They had no illegal items and they violated no laws.”
During a massive campaign rally in the capital Minsk, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya — the leading rival to Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko — denied claims the opposition was working with Russian mercenaries to incite mass unrest. Tikhanovskaya, who is married to the jailed blogger Tikhanovsky, said people only wanted a fair election, reported The Moscow Times.
She said Russian private contractors might have been using Belarus as a transit point for a long time and questioned the timing of this week’s arrests.
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