After Belarus detained at least 30 men who it accused as ‘Russian mercenaries’ amid the presidential election campaign, the bilateral relations between Moscow and Minsk worsened on August 1 on the matter. Russian officials denied accusations against it by Belarus as the two sides locked in disagreement, according to reports. The dispute between the two countries deepened after Russia said that the men arrested in Belarus who it said were the employees of a private security firm had a connecting flight to Istanbul and were staying in Belarus. President Alexander Lukashenko, in response, rejected that theory.
Having heard the statements by Russia’s head of state security and investigation committee, President Alexander Lukashenko expressed objection, saying, “it was clear that the group had another goal. It is the task of the investigation to find out about those goals." Further, he added, there had been no argument with Russia regarding the issue and that Belarus was ready to cooperate.
Hope the incident would be resolved in the interest of brotherly relations between the countries, head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Naryshkin, was quoted as saying by state news media agency.
However, on July 30, Russia demanded that Belarus must release 33 Russian private security contractors that it had detained on terrorism charges, contradicting the plot, as per a report. This led to an unprecedented escalation of tensions as Russia called the arrests made by Belarusian State Security Committee, known by its Soviet-era name KGB, as the authoritarian leader’s stunt who was seeking a sixth term in the upcoming elections next month.
There is no information about any wrongdoing of the Russians that may have caused the detention—Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Further, Kremlin spokesman Peskov denied the allegations about Russia’s involvement in efforts to destabilize Belarus as “nothing but innuendo.” Summoned by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, Russian Ambassador Dmitry Mezentsev said that the accusations were “unfounded”. Mezentsev demanded immediate consular access to detainees and proof of Russia’s involvement. According to reports, the Wagner company which is alleged to have been involved is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman accused of United States for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election that concerned Belarus. In another report, authorities in Minsk said that they believe the husband of opposition presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya may have ties to the group
(Image Credit: AP) (With AP Inputs)