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14 Aug, 2020 19:16

Belarus hands over 32 ‘Russian mercenaries’ KGB accused of ‘planning riots’ – ignoring Ukraine’s extradition demand

Belarus hands over 32 ‘Russian mercenaries’ KGB accused of ‘planning riots’ – ignoring Ukraine’s extradition demand

A fortnight after their arrest raised eyebrows, and ignoring Ukrainian attempts to extradite most of them, the authorities in Belarus have released 32 Russian citizens they accused of attempting to undermine state security.

The KGB claimed the men were fighters from the Wagner private military contractor company who arrived in the country to prepare for mass riots. Moscow said the 33 detainees – one is a Belarussian citizen and hasn’t been transferred to Russia – were indeed security personnel, but Minsk was only the transit point to their final destination. Russia had closed almost all international air routes from late March to the end of July, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but Belarus hadn’t imposed a travel lockdown.

“The transfer of these individuals was carried out in strict accordance with the norms of international law and the national legislation of Russia and Belarus, in close cooperation with officials from both our countries,” the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office explained. “The Russian authorities will continue to manage the situation concerning these citizens.”

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A twist in the tale came when Ukraine asked for the extradition of 28 out of the 33 detainees, claiming they had previously participated in the war in Eastern Ukraine. President Alexander Lukashenko had promised to consider Kiev’s request.

The men were arrested at the end of July, A criminal case was opened against them on suspicion of preparing riots. The Kremlin dismissed the accusations completely, and the Russian Foreign Ministry responded by saying that the detention of Russians was a “provocation” by Minsk. Last weekend, Lukashenko announced that he had agreed with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to resolve the situation with the detainees.

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