The videos were certainly not what Russians have come to expect from their country’s secret warriors abroad: powerful men in unmarked uniforms imposing Russian influence on Syria, Ukraine, and Africa. These men were caught on camera by Belarusian security officers totally unprepared. Some were naked except for underwear, with documents, propaganda leaflets, and condoms strewn around their hotel rooms. Others wore vaguely marked uniforms. All 33 of them were military-age Russians hunkered down just outside Minsk a few days before Belarus’ presidential elections.
Belarusian state news agencies reported the soldiers served as Russian security contractors with Wagner, a Russian private military group close to the government. They were in the country for “destabilization” purposes before the elections, Belarusian officials said. Moscow denied any military involvement in Belarus, and some believe the mercenaries were simply using the country as a staging post on their way to or from their latest assignment.
By arresting the Wagner soldiers, Belarus’ embattled president Alexander Lukashenko is likely to be making many enemies in Russia. The Belarusian Security Council accused the arrested Wagner soldiers of preparing “a terrorist attack,” the Russian Interfax news agency reported Thursday.
The arrest and subsequent broadcast of the footage, which was aired by a Belarusian state channel, Agency of Television News, was all the more confusing as Belarus and Russia have been allies in an arrangement called the Union State for decades.
Read more: Daily Beast