31 July 2020
Belarus gives Ukraine list of detained Russians suspected of plotting riots

Belarus gives Ukraine list of detained Russians suspected of plotting riots

Belarusian KGB / State TV and Radio Company of Belarus / AP

The Belarusian authorities have given Ukraine a list of the detained suspects believed to be mercenaries working for the Wagner private military company (PMC), UNIAN reported on Friday.

Commenting on the issue at a press briefing on July 31, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba confirmed that Belarus had handed over the list, adding that Ukraine intends to investigate their citizenship and establish their involvement in war crimes in the Donbas region.

"We've received the list of citizens in custody. Belarusian Foreign Ministry asked us to pass this document to the competent authorities of Ukraine to check for crimes committed by these persons in our country," said Kuleba.

"It is also very important to establish who of the members of the group on that list took part in hostilities [in Donbas] on the side of the [Russia-controlled] occupation forces, illegal armed groups, whether they were involved in any crimes," he added.

The minister did not specify the number of the Ukrainians detained in Belarus, but noted that there were not seven of them, as previously reported by the media.

"We have to check the whole list, because there may be different situations. For example, when being detained, someone may have introduced himself as a citizen of Ukraine or a citizen of the Russian Federation, but that does not exclude that this person may [also] have a Ukrainian passport," the minister said, adding that Ukraine does not recognize double citizenship under current legislation.

Belarusian law enforcement detained 33 Russian citizens on July 29, believing them to be associated with the Wagner private military company, which is reportedly linked to Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, also known as “Putin’s chef” for his Kremlin catering contracts. Wagner mercenaries have taken part in multiple armed conflicts, such as the war in eastern Ukraine and the Syrian civil war.

According to Belarus' Investigative Committee, the individuals were detained on suspicion of preparing mass riots to destabilize the country prior to its August presidential election. Unregistered presidential candidates Nikolai (Mikalay) Statkevich and Sergey Tikhanovsky are also under suspicion in the same case.

Russian author Zakhar Prilepin confirmed that "two or three" of the arrested Russians had served in his former battalion during the war in Donbas. Several of the detained suspects were also reported to have Ukrainian citizenship.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the allegations. "We do not recognize their Ukrainian citizenship. They are citizens of Russia," news outlet RBC cited Peskov as saying.

When prompted about the suspects' involvement with the Wagner group, Peskov commented that "there are no such things as private military companies (PMCs) in Russia, de jure." He added that PMCs in Russia are outlawed and that he "has not heard about their existence."

Russia's ambassador to Belarus Dmitry Mezentsev commented that the arrested Russians were "employees of a private security company" who had apparently missed a flight while on their way to "protect energy infrastructure and resources abroad" as part of a "commercial contract."

Belarus' presidential election is set for August 9. Incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko had previously accused Russia of attempting to meddle in the country's internal affairs and elections, which Russia denied.