The Belarusian KGB has confirmed to Belsat that they started checks on citizens of Belarus spotted in the private military company Wagner. It is the information provided by Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) that gave ground for such measures. PMC Wagner is notorious for its Moscow-controlled mercenaries who fight in different parts of the world.
In accordance with the laws of Belarus, recruiting, training and involving mercenaries in conflicts and hostilities provides for the criminal punishment (7-15 years in prison); paid participation in conflicts and hostilities in foreign lands is punishable by imprisonment for 3-7 years and possibly confiscation. But the KGB has not reported yet whether such a criminal case will be initiated.
“The State Security Committee of Belarus is verifying the information provided by the Security Service of Ukraine on Belarusian citizens’s taking part in military operations in the territory of other states,” KGB spokesman Andrey Yarash told Belsat.
It is practically the first time that the KGB has announced a check into the activity of the PMC Wagner on the basis of data obtained from Ukraine’s SBU. Notably, the Ukrainian side released the first reports about Belarusians in the Wagner group as far back as July; another five names became known in October at the request of Belsat TV, investigative journalist Ihar Ilyash, who has been keeping an eye on Wagner for several years.
“During this period, Belsat has found out that at least 9 of 10 living Belarusian ‘Wagnerovites’ visited Belarus, some of them made documents, and some came after the SBU had published their names,” Ilyash said.
According to international investigators, Wagner’s men are secretly subordinate to the GRU HQ, i.e. to the Russian Defense Ministry. They had a role in annexing Crimea 5 years ago, they still fight on the Russian side in Donbas and Syria. The group was spotted in Sudan and in the Central African Republic, where three Russian journalists were killed when investigating into the actions of Wagner mercenaries. Yemen, Libya and Venezuela are also on their record.
“If they do not violate Russia’s law, they have the right to work and push their business agenda anywhere in the world,” Vladimir Putin commented on their activity at a press conference in December, 2018.
If media reports are anything to go by, the PMC has a wide range of ‘business’ interests: ensuring protection to heads of state and commercial properties, training soldiers and militants, combat actions, kidnapping and torturing disloyal people.
“It is about the persons who fought for the aggressor, and this aggressor may use them again in Belarus,” Ilyash warns.
An average ‘Wagnerovite’ is a man having army or police experience and facing financial difficulties; he failed to find a place for himself in civilian life. What should a Belarusian who is being recruited into the Russian Wagner group do? The KGB has not given a straight answer.
“Any citizen of Belarus, or a foreign citizen, if they consider it necessary, can or, perhaps, must contact the KGB of Belarus,” Andrey Yarash told Belsat TV.
However, it is highly unlikely that the mercenaries will be prosecuted in Belarus, Ilyash believes. The journalist established identities of about 20 Belarusians who fought for the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk republics as part of the Wagner and other illegal armed groups and then returned home without any issues. Only four persons were arrested and convicted, but the sentences delivered were tellingly lenient.
Yaraslau Stseshyk/MS, belsat.eu