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30/08/2020 | Putin says US and Ukrainian intelligence ¨lured¨ Russian mercenaries into Belarus

Joseph Fitsanakis

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview that a group of Russian paramilitary contractors, who were arrested in Belarus last month, were lured there as part of a joint American-Ukrainian spy operation.

 

On July 29, Belarussian secret services announced the arrest of 33 Russian citizens, who were employees of Wagner Group, a private Russian military company that some believe operates as a private paramilitary wing of the Russian Armed Forces.

The Investigative Committee, Belarus’ primary investigating authority, determined that the 33 had entered the country as part of a 200-strong group of Russians working for Wagner, in order to destabilize the country in the run-up to the presidential election. The election resulted in the return to office of Belarus’ authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, for a record sixth term. According to Belarussian state television, the 33 Russians were found in possession of Sudanese currency and a Sudanese smartphone card. Sudan is believed to be one of Wagner Group’s most active areas of operation, and in the past the company has used Belarus as a transit center from which it coordinates its operations in the African continent.

On Thursday, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that the 33 Russians were arrested as part of a joint American-Ukrainian intelligence operation, which lured the Wagner employees into Belarus. Speaking to state-owned Rossiya 24 television, Putin said the alleged operation was “carried out jointly by Ukrainian and American special services. The Russians, he said, had been hired “for absolutely legal work in Latin America and the Middle East” by an employer who “dragged them into Belarus”. The men were then “presented as a ‘strike force’ to destabilize [Belarus] during the presidential campaign”, said the Russian strongman.

Putin’s statement follows reports earlier this month in the Russian media, which claim that the 33 Russians were given forged passports as part of the alleged joint American-Ukrainian operation, in order to enable them to leave Russia undetected. However, neither the Russian media nor the Russian leader have provided evidence for these claims. Meanwhile Belarus expelled 32 of the 33 Russians a few days following their arrest. One remains in prison in the Belarussian capital Minsk.

Intelnews.org (Estados Unidos)

 



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