MOSCOW (AFP) — The Kremlin on Thursday denied that it plans to destabilize an “ally” after Belarus arrested 33 Russians it said were mercenaries on a mission to disrupt upcoming presidential polls.
Belarusian security services on Wednesday arrested 33 Russians, saying the men were mercenaries on a mission to destabilize presidential polls in the ex-Soviet country.
Belarus’s KGB security service said the detained men were members of the Wagner group, a shadowy private military firm reportedly controlled by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said claims that “organizations from Russia are sending some people to destabilize the situation in Belarus” are “nothing but insinuations.”
In Moscow’s first official comment, Putin’s spokesman insisted that Russia and Belarus are “allies and very close partners.”
Belarussian Strongman Alexander Lukashenko is seeking a sixth term on Aug. 9 and the arrests came as authorities have harshly cracked down on would-be opposition candidates and activists.
Belarusian security council chief Andrei Ravkov said the detainees face charges of preparing “terrorist acts,” and added that more than 100 were still at large.
Peskov questioned the basis for the arrests, saying that Russia had “no information on any unlawful actions” by the men.
The incident “requires explanation,” he said.
Putin’s Russia also has been accused of interfering in elections in Great Britain and the United States.
© Agence France-Presse