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Lukashenko ‘demands answers’ as KGB chief briefs him on ‘Russian mercenaries’ detained in Belarus

Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. ©  Sputnik / Mikhail Klimentyev

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has ordered a thorough probe into what he called an “emergency situation” as security chief confirmed arrests of 32 suspected ‘Wagner’ private military recruits in a televised briefing.

Lukashenko on Wednesday told the head of the Belarusian National Security Service, the KGB, to launch a transparent and unbiased probe into the incident, which the media has been quick to tie to the upcoming presidential election.

“If these are indeed Russian citizens… we must immediately contact the Russian officials and demand that they explain what is going on,” Lukashenko said at the emergency meeting of national security chiefs broadcast by local channels.

It is too early to jump to any conclusion or level accusations, Lukashenko pointed out, saying that “if they [the Russians] are innocent then it is for the better. We have no intention of smearing an allied nation.” The KGB head, Valery Vakulchik, told the president that those detained were “members of the ‘Wagner’ private military company” – a shady company providing mercenary services throughout the world said to be operating from Russia.

The media has immediately tied the arrests to the August 9 election in Belarus, where Lukashenko is seeking re-election for the sixth term in a tense election campaign. State news agency Belta reported that as many as 200 ‘Wagner’ fighters could have arrived in Belarus to supposedly “destabilize” the situation in the country ahead of the vote, already marred by controversial arrests of opposition figures, with one even fleeing to Russia and claiming the KGB were after him.

Meanwhile, some Russian media have theorized the timing of arrests were in favor of Lukashenko, bringing up his recent comments about private military contractors used in “Maidan”-like revolutions – a reference to the 2014 coup in Ukraine – which he offered to a special forces brigade on Friday. Lukashenko bluntly responded to these theories during the briefing, telling these media and some “Telegram channels” to “cut the cr*p.”

Moscow on Wednesday said it received an official note on the arrests from Minsk, while several officials said they were baffled at the allegations of a ‘Russian plot.’ Russia has never had any plans aimed at political destabilization in Belarus and “something like this cannot exist even in theory,” Vladimir Dzhabarov, a deputy head of the Senate’s foreign relations committee and a high-ranking officer of the FSB, has said, adding that “Belarus will remain our closest ally in any case."

“The activities of private companies have nothing to do with the government’s policies,” added senator Aleksey Kondratyev, addressing the alleged role of the ‘Wagner’ group.

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