RUISSIA: Kremlin calls for release of Russians detained in Belarus

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Belarusian security services arrested Russians on Wednesday, saying they were on a mission to destabilize the country.

The Kremlin has called on Belarus' former Soviet ally to release 33 Russian men detained in Minsk over an alleged plot to organize riots ahead of next month's presidential elections.

Belarusian security services arrested the group of Russians on Wednesday, claiming they were mercenaries on a mission to destabilize the country ahead of the August 9 elections.

The Belarusian KGB security service said the men were members of the Wagner Group, a notorious private military company believed to be controlled by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We hope that in the very near future this incident will be explained by our Belarusian allies and that the citizens will be released," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.

He added that "the baseless detention of Russian citizens does not quite correspond to the parameters of allied relations".

Belarusian investigators said the men were working with prominent opposition critics Sergei Tikhanovsky and Mikola Statkevich, who were both jailed and barred from contesting the poll.

Peskov confirmed that the Russian men were "employees of a private security company" who were staying temporarily in Belarus before traveling to Istanbul.

“They missed their plane,” he said. “They had tickets to Istanbul. "

A Belarusian investigator said in televised comments that the men's plans for the onward journey were only an "alibi", the news site reported.

"As the investigation found out, they had no plans to go there (to Istanbul)," the head of the investigation team, Alexander Agafonov, said in an interview with national television. .

The men gave "contradictory" answers, he added.

Eleven of them said they intended to fly to Venezuela, 15 to Turkey, two to Cuba and one to Syria. One "didn't know where he was flying" and the others refused to testify, Agafonov said.

In a massive election rally in the capital Minsk on Thursday, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya - the main rival of Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko - denied claims the opposition was working with Russian mercenaries to incite unrest. mass.

Tikhanovskaya, who is married to jailed blogger Tikhanovsky, said people only wanted a fair election.

She said Russian private contractors may have been using Belarus as a transit point for a long time and questioned the timing of this week's arrests.

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