Russian mercenaries arrested in Belarus

32 mercenaries from the Russian private military company known as the Wagner Group have been arrested at a sanatorium outside Minsk. According to the authorities, they were on a mission to destabilise the country ahead of the Belarusian presidential election on 9 August. Is the Kremlin really trying to interfere, or is this all just a ruse by the country's embattled leader Alexander Lukashenko?

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Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

Lukashenko preparing to cancel the election

Echo of Moscow suspects that the president is fabricating a reason to postpone the upcoming elections:

“What choice does 'Batka' [little father] have? Without sabotage, the election will be a huge fiasco for him. It has to be cancelled or postponed somehow; it certainly can't take place on 9 August. Foreign mercenaries, real 'green men' with condoms in their pockets, are coming to Belarus as if on cue. What for? To destabilise the situation ahead of the elections. ... Can Alexander Grigoryevich [Lukashenko] allow enemy hordes to get away with this? A rhetorical question. That's why he's declaring a state of emergency, under which it will be impossible to hold the presidential election.”

Novaya Gazeta (RU) /

A show for the concerned West

Belarus has long been considered a transit and rest zone for Russian military personnel on foreign missions. Taking this into account Irina Chalip, Novaya Gazeta's Minsk correspondent, considers the events to be a ploy by the Belarusian President:

“Of course all these transfers were made by mutual agreement. Lukashenko knew about them. This arrest is just a show. But not for the local population: it doesn't swallow such fairy tales. The spectators for this performance are sitting in the West. That is the intended audience for the show 'Look, the Wagner troupe is outside Minsk! The green men are advancing. Russia is about to take control of Belarus.' And instead of demanding the release of political prisoners and threatening sanctions, the West is meant to reach out a helping hand to Lukashenko and recognise him as the sole guarantor of independence.”