Belarusian law enforcement officials said on Wednesday that they had received information about more than 200 militants arriving in Belarus, of which more than 30 had been detained and identified as fighters by the private military company Wagner. businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Prigozhin is a Russian oligarch who is often referred to as Putin’s cook because he has close ties to the Kremlin. Wagner’s fighters were previously deployed to, among others, Ukraine, Syria and Libya.
Belarusian state television has released a video of the raid, in which several men were detained in a hotel room. One man is depicted with handcuffs face down in bed. The video also showed alleged personal property of detainees, including passports, US dollars, other foreign currency and telephones.
Prigozhin’s Concord reiterated its denial that Prigozhin owned Wagner in a comment posted on their social media site VKontakte late Wednesday. Prigozhin “has nothing to do with Wagner, does not finance them and does not monitor their whereabouts,” she said.
The United States has punished Prigozhina for funding the Internet Research Agency, which is being reported by US intelligence agencies in the 2016 presidential election.
He accused Lukashenko of playing politics
Belta published a list containing the full names of those detained. Belarusian State Security Committee arrested the suspects with the help of special police units. The Belarusian Committee of Inquiry has launched an inquiry.
Lukashenko said that according to Belta, Russia would ask for an explanation. The Russian embassy in Belarus said in a report that the authorities had received an official notification regarding the detention. The Russian Foreign Ministry did not respond immediately to CNN’s request for an opinion.
Russian writer Zakhar Prilepin, who had previously fought in separatists in eastern Ukraine; he wrote on his Facebook page that he had identified several men who had served in his battalion among those arrested in Belarus. He suggested that the men were most likely to cross Belarus to fight elsewhere, and that Lukashenko used their detention to leverage before the election.
“In fact, there are several former fighters from our battalion (which I might remind you). It is also well known that people who have fought or are fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk republics are also fighting in various places, they are also going to Syria and other warm fighting countries, “Prilepin wrote.
“However, if the Belarusian leadership starts using this story for its own purposes, it will certainly be ridiculous. It looks like a well-known story, when well-trained people move to certain destinations where they have their own business, they do not need Belarus, “Prilepin added. “And I am sure that the Belarusian special services are well aware that three dozen men in camouflage have gone elsewhere.”
The U.S. military recently accused Russia of sending Wagner mercenaries, along with weapons such as anti-aircraft systems, to operate in the Libyan conflict line. The U.S. command for Africa has also released satellite photos showing that Wagner vehicles and Russian military equipment in Libya are supporting anti-government insurgents in the country’s civil war.
“Russia is using the Wagner Group as its plenipotentiary in Libya to establish a long-term presence in the Mediterranean,” the African command said in a statement.
“They are still trying to gain support in Libya,” Brig said. General Gregory Hadfield, Deputy Chief of Intelligence, in a statement.
Among the male objects seized by the authorities at the hotel was a document written in Arabic showing a prayer used by a Sunni Muslim religious order called al-Qadiriyya, popular with Muslims in Arab countries in North Africa. The document and foreign currencies found in their possession suggest that the fighters could travel through Belarus to another destination.
“Visitors drew attention to themselves because they behaved unconventionally for Russian tourists and wore military-style uniforms. They didn’t drink alcohol, they didn’t visit any fun places, [and] they stayed away from everyone to try and not pay attention to themselves, “states the Belta report.
Russia’s senator and colonel Aleksey Kondratyev told the GRU military intelligence that details of the detentions need to be “checked and law enforcement agencies must cooperate,” the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.