The American TV channel CNN told about some circumstances of the failed special operation, as a result of which a group of 33 members of the Russian private military company Wagner found themselves in Belarus in the summer of 2020. Alyaksandr Lukashenka tried to use their detention in the run-up to the presidential election to discredit the opposition and intimidate the public, but later released the mercenaries and even apologized. Belsat.eu recalls the details of this scandalous story.
On the morning of July 29, 2020, KGB Group ‘A’, with the help of riot police, detained 32 Wagner militants in a health and holiday centre near Minsk. Another person was detained in the Belarusian town of Kalinkavichy. The mercenaries had no weapons on them. According to state media, they ‘arrived in Belarus to destabilize the situation during the election campaign’.
As it turned out, first 32 ‘Wagnerovites’ checked into the IBB hotel in Minsk, then moved to Belarusachka. The state media noted that the militants aroused the suspicion of its administration with unusual behaviour for Russian tourists: they did not drink alcoholic beverages, kept separate, all wore military-style clothes.
During interrogations, the detainees claimed that they had no criminal intentions, and found themselves in Belarus because they planned to fly to Istanbul via Minsk. However, the Investigative Committee refuted the version of the transit, claiming that there were many inconsistencies in the testimony of the Russians.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka called the detention of the militants an ‘emergency’. The then Secretary of State of the Security Council Andrey Raukou stated that a criminal case on preparing terrorist attacks had been launched. He stressed that according to operative information, there are about 200 militants in Belarus, but the remaining 167 have not been found yet.
The Lukashenka regime has repeatedly intimidated Belarusians with fictional militants and mythical external threats. However, the story with the ‘Wagnerovites’ was different from all previous fakes: these 33 people were real mercenaries and had experience in combat. It is not the first year that the operations of Russian PMC Wagner have attracted the attention of the world media, so their detention in Belarus had a great international resonance.
PMC Wagner is a de facto secret unit of the Russian army that performs special combat tasks. For the successful completion of these tasks ‘Wagnerovites’ receive state awards (including the Hero of Russia). Presumably, Wagner’s Group reports directly to the General Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.
According to the media, the PMC is financed through a Russian oligarch close to Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin. The base of Wagner’s private military company is located in Molkin (Krasnodar Territory of the Russian Federation).
The official version of the authorities raised many questions from the beginning. First, it was surprising that the appearance of foreign mercenaries was predicted by Lukashenka.
“All kinds of wars now start with street protests, demonstrations, then Maidans. On the Maidan, if there are none (we have few ‘Maidanites’), they will be pulled up from the side. These are professional servicemen, bandits who are specially trained, mainly within the framework of PMC around the world, and earn a lot of money on provocations in certain countries,” Lukashenka said while visiting the 5th special brigade in Maryina Horka on July 24.
And on the night of July 24-25, ‘Wagnerovites’ checked in a Minsk hotel. That is, the prophecy was fulfilled instantly.
Secondly, from the very beginning, Minsk behaved as if PMC Wagner was not a Kremlin project at all, but an independent private military company. In order not to make Moscow even angrier, the special services and state propaganda did not say a word about Wagner’s ties with the Russian General Staff and Putin’s oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Lukashenka spoke very carefully: although he said about the ‘dirty intentions’ of the Russians, he immediately made a reservation that he did not want to ‘disgrace the country close to us’, and therefore called ‘not to talk nonsense’.
Third, special services and state propaganda ignored the fact that one of the 33 mercenaries – Andrey Bakunovich – already lived in Belarus (in Kalinkavichy). His involvement in PMC Wagner had been known for a long time, but the KGB considered the man a threat only 10 days before the presidential election.
Most of all, however, the official version was discredited by the authorities’ demonstrative desire to use the story against their political opponents.
The next day after the detention of the Wagner group members, Andrey Raukou met with the presidential candidates in the CEC building, where he said that two more groups of militants were being formed near Pskov and Nevel and wanted to be thrown into Belarus. He also told the candidates about the dangers of mass events in current conditions and a high probability of provocations. It is obvious that such statements were made in order to disrupt Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya‘s pre-election rally, which was planned to be held that day in Bangalore Square. Fearing had no effect: on July 30, at least 63,000 people came to the rally.
At the same time, the Investigative Committee claimed that the detention of the ‘Wagnerovites’ was connected with the case of political prisoners Syarhei Tsikhanouski and Mikalai Statkevich, who had been in prison for two months at that time. These accusations looked so absurd that no one even seriously discussed them.
However, Lukashenka continued to speculate on the Wagner topic. On August 4, during his address to the National Assembly, he claimed that the militants had been specially sent to Belarus, and there was no question of any transit here. Moreover, Lukashenka stated that another group of mercenaries had been thrown into Belarusian territory:
“Today we received information about another detachment that was transferred to the south. We have to run, catch them in the woods – and this is during the harvesting season! We will catch them all!”
The authorities never mentioned the ‘Wagner detachment’ in the Belarusian forests again: after the presidential election, this fake finally lost its meaning.
In the context of mass protests in Belarus, the Kremlin supported Lukashenka, so all the misunderstandings in Belarusian-Russian relations needed to be urgently resolved. On August 14, it was announced that the ‘Wagnerovites’ had been released. 32 militants were sent to Russia. Another mercenary – Belarusian Andrey Bakunovich – remained in the country. Lukashenka sent his eldest son Viktar to apologize to the mercenaries.
“I sent my son, who works as a security adviser, to apologize to these people and ask where they want to go. They said, “We want to go to Russia.” And, in fact, they left,” Lukashenka told Russian journalists.
The information about the arrival of Lukashenka’s son was confirmed by a mercenary with the call sign ‘Evil’.
“We gathered in one big hall, where we met with Lukashenka’s son,” he said on the YouTube channel WarGonzo.
After that, the militants were put on a bus and escorted by KGB officers to the Russian border, where they were already met by FSB officers.
The return of Russia’s mercenaries caused dissatisfaction in Kyiv which demanded their extradition. Prior to the election, Ukrainian leadert Volodymyr Zelensky discussed the issue with Lukashenka, and the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine sent an official request for the extradition of the ‘Wagnerovites’. However, the Ukrainian side did not receive any response.
“WE CONSIDER THIS DECISION, to put it mildly, UNFAIR,” Zelensky reacted emotionally on his Facebook page.
Lukashenka not only apologized for the results of this story, but also treated the detained ‘Wagnerovites’ very ‘carefully’ from the very beginning.
“They are, of course, guilty, but not so much as to take any harsh measures against them,” he said on August 1.
The then Russian ambassador Dmitry Mezentsev, in turn, said that the detainees were in ‘good’ and ‘comfortable’ conditions.
The lenient treatment of mercenaries involved in war crimes contrasted sharply with the system of mass torture that was in fact organized against the protesters on August 9-12. Lukashenka does not consider it necessary to apologize for violence against civilians. “Akrestsin’s [detention facility] is not a holiday centre,” he said when asked about tortures.
After the mercenaries were released to Russia, Ukrainian media reported that a large-scale special operation aimed at capturing militants involved in the war against Ukraine had in fact been thwarted in Minsk. During the year, Ukrainian special services ‘recruited’ Russian mercenaries into a security campaign to protect Venezuelan oil fields. They had to fly from Minsk with a transfer in Istanbul. During the flight, Ukrainian special services planned for one reason or another to land the plane in Kyiv, where the ‘Wagnerovites’ would be arrested. However, the operation was thwarted due to a leak: as a result, the militants were detained by the Belarusian KGB.
Who is responsible for the ‘drain’ of classified information is still unknown. But the preparation of the special operation this year was confirmed by President Zelensky, noting that the idea belonged to ‘other countries, definitely not Ukraine’. He also said that he was counting on the help of Lukashenka, who promised not to let him down in a personal conversation.
“I was sure that he (Lukashenka) would hand over these killers to us. But then happened what happened,” he said in an interview with 1+1 TV channel.
According to CNN, during the ‘recruitment’ for the protection of oil fields, Ukrainian special services asked the militants to send information about where they fought and in what operations they participated. As a result, mercenaries with the most obvious ties to the conflict in Donbas were selected. Among them were two people involved in the crash of passenger flight MH17 over Donbas (298 dead), as well as four suspects in the destruction of the IL-76 with Ukrainian paratroopers (49 dead).
CNN reports that the United States may have been involved in preparing a special operation against the ‘Wagnerovites’. Sources of the TV channel in Ukraine claim that the American side provided technical assistance and advised the Ukrainian secret services during the development of the operation. In turn, a senior US official did not confirm this information: he told reporters that the United States was aware of the operation, but did not take part in it.