Belarus law enforcement agencies said on Wednesday they received information about more than 200 militants who had arrived in Belarus, more than 30 of whom were detained and identified as fighters by private military company Wagner, a shady enterprise. widely spread which is sponsored by St. Petersburg businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Prigozhin is a Russian oligarch often referred to as “Putin’s chef” for his close ties to the Kremlin. Wagner fighters were already deployed in Ukraine, Syria and Libya, among other places.
Belarusian state TV has released a video of the raid showing several of the men being held in a hotel room. One man is shown holding his face down in bed. The video also showed alleged personal possessions of detainees, including passports, US dollars, foreign currency and other phones.
Prigozhin’s group of companies Concord reiterated its denial that Prigozhin was owned by Wagner, in a comment posted on their VKontakte social media page late Wednesday. Prigozhin “has nothing to do with Wagner, doesn’t fund them and doesn’t track where they are,” he said.
Prigozhin was sanctioned by the United States for funding the Internet Research Agency, which U.S. intelligence agencies say was dealt with in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Lukashenko accused him of playing politics
Belta published a list that included the full names of what she said were the detained men. The state security committee of Belarus arrested the suspects with the help of special police units. The Belarussian investigative committee has opened an inquiry.
According to Belta, Lukashenko said he would be asking for an explanation from Russia. The Russian embassy in Belarus said in a tweet that it had received official notification from authorities regarding the detentions. The Russian foreign ministry did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Russian writer Zakhar Prilepin, who previously fought in eastern Ukraine over separatists; side, wrote on his Facebook page that he had identified several men who served in his battalion among those arrested in Belarus. He suggested that the men were likely to go through Belarus to fight elsewhere, and that Lukashenko was being used by their detainees for pre-election leverage.
“There are indeed several former fighters from our battalion (which no longer exists, I can remind you). It is also known that people who were or are fighting in the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk fight in different places as well, go also to Syria and other hot fighting countries, “Prilepin wrote.
“But if the Belarussian leadership starts using this story for its own purposes, it will surely seem ridiculous. It seems a well-known story when well-trained people move to certain destinations where they have their own business, they don’t need it. Belarus, “added Prilepin. “And I’m sure Belarus’ special services are well aware that three dozen men in camouflage were going elsewhere.”
The U.S. military recently accused Russia of sending Wagner mercenaries, along with weapons such as anti-aircraft systems, to operate on the front lines of the conflict in Libya. The U.S. Africa Command has also released satellite photos showing Wagner vehicles and Russian military equipment in Libya supporting rebels against the government in the country’s civil war.
“Russia uses the Wagner Group as a proxy in Libya to establish a long-term presence on the Mediterranean Sea,” the Africa Command said in a statement.
“They continue to seek to try to gain a base in Libya,” the Brig said. The statement of General Gregory Hadfield, the deputy director of command intelligence.
Among the items of the detained men confiscated by the authorities at the hotel was a document written in Arabic, showing prayers used by a Sunni Muslim religious order called al-Qadiriyya, popular among Muslims in Arab countries in Africa. ‘On. The document and the foreign currency found in their belongings suggest that the fighters may have been traveling to another destination from the Belarusian capital.
“Visitors drew attention to themselves by bringing it uncharacteristically to Russian tourists and wore uniform, military-style clothing. They did not drink alcohol, did not visit any entertainment venues, [and] they have kept themselves away from everyone to try and not draw attention to themselves, ”the Belta report said.
Aleksey Kondratyev, a Russian senator and colonel with the military’s GRU intelligence unit, said details of the necessary detentions should be “checked and law enforcement of the two countries needs to cooperate on this,” reported the state-run news agency RIA RIA Novosti.