MINSK – Belarusian authorities on Thursday accused more than 30 detained Russians of plotting terror attacks amid a presidential election campaign, allegations that Russian officials angrily rejected.
The grave accusations mark an unprecedented spike in tensions between Russia and Belarus, which are neighbors and traditionally allies. Independent observers and opposition supporters in Belarus have dismissed the alleged terror plot as a campaign stunt by President Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian leader who is seeking a sixth term in next month's election.
The Belarusian State Security Committee, still known by its Soviet-era name KGB, said it detained 32 people from private Russian military firm Wagner early Wednesday at a sanitarium outside the capital of Minsk. Another person was detained in the country’s south.
Security Council Secretary Andrei Ravkov said Thursday that the Russians are facing a criminal probe on charges of plotting terror attacks in Belarus. He claimed that Belarusian authorities were searching for another 200 Russian “militants” believed to be in the ex-Soviet nation.
The Kremlin responded by urging Belarus to explain its action and to fully respect the detainees' rights.
“There is no information about any wrongdoing of the Russians that may have caused the detention.," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. He shrugged off the allegations of the Russians' involvement in efforts to destabilize Belarus as “nothing but innuendo.”
After being summoned by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, Russian Ambassador Dmitry Mezentsev also dismissed the accusations as unfounded. He said the Russians were en route to an unspecified country and checked into the sanitarium near Minsk after they missed a connecting flight at the capital's airport.
Mezentsev demanded immediate consular access to the detainees and urged Belarusian authorities to show their evidence against the Russians.