July 30 (UPI) — Authorities in Belarus on Thursday said that 33 Russian mercenaries were arrested on suspicion of terrorism.
Belarus’ Security Council chief, Andrey Ravkov, said authorities opened a criminal investigation against the militants, identified as fighters from the Wagner private military company, who were accused of trying to “destabilize” the country’s electoral process ahead of its upcoming election in August.
Law enforcement agencies in the country said Wednesday that they had received information of more than 200 militants arriving in Belarus.
Video of the raid showed several of the men being detained in a hotel room, including one who was handcuffed face-down to a bed. Alleged personal possessions of the detainees was also shown, including passports, phones, U.S. dollars and other foreign currencies.
Wagner has allegedly been linked to St. Petersburg businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prigozhin’s Concord group of companies denied that he owns the private military group, adding he “has nothing to do with Wagner, does not finance them and does not follow their wherabouts.”
Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee for Foreign Affairs, said Thursday that Russia should take a balanced approach to respond to the reports, saying that the nation is not actively working to disrupt foreign elections.
“We need to get to the bottom of this story. Russians are accused of intending to destabilize brotherly Belarus,” Slutsky said. “It has been repeatedly said that Russia is not interfering in electoral processes of other states in any shape or form, even more so when it is about our allies. It is simply impossible.”