Belarusian investigators on Thursday accused opposition leaders and Russian mercenaries of planning mass riots ahead of the presidential election on 9 August.
The Belarusian Investigative Committee linked the Wagner group members recently detained near Minsk to jailed vlogger Sergei Tikhanovsky and prominent opposition politician Nikolai Statkevich.
Sergei Tikhanovsky faces a number of criminal charges. He is suspected of “instigating social hostility” and calling for violent and aggressive actions against law enforcement officers.”
Besides, Nikolai Statkevich, Sergei Tikhanovsky, and 33 citizens of the Russian Federation are suspected of “preparations for mass riots”. Inquiries continue.
Detention of 33 mecenaries
On 29 July, 33 Russian mercenaries were arrested in the Belorusochka sanatorium near Minsk allegedly plotting to destabilize the country ahead of presidential election in August. The KGB security service said the detained men were members of the Wagner group.
Authorities later reported that 200 fighters were sent to Belarus. On Thursday morning, Belarus security council chief Andrei Ravkov said that a search is going on to find the others, complaining that it was “like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko called the situation an emergency and called an urgent meeting of the Security Council. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry invited the ambassadors of Russia and Ukraine to the country.
Sergei Tikhanovsky, a popular vlogger of the “Country for Life” YouTube channel was detained in Grodno in May during the collection of signatures for the nomination of his wife Svetlana Tikhanovskaya as a presidential candidate.
Eyewitnesses spoke of provocative actions, the police insisted on an attack on its officers. A criminal case was opened regarding violence against law enforcement officers. On 8 June, the blogger and six other detainees were charged with “the organization of group actions that grossly violate public order and are associated with clear disobedience to the legitimate demands of government officials.”
Later he was charged with “the obstruction of the exercise of electoral rights, the right to participate in a referendum, or the exercise of the right to legislative initiative of citizens, or the work of the Central Commission of the Republic of Belarus on elections and holding republican referendums, election commissions, commissions on referendum, commissions on voting on recalling a deputy.”
Opposition politician Nikolai Statkevich was also jailed in the run-up to the election.