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Belarus Releases Alleged Russian Mercenaries Detained In Purported Plot

Vagner mercenaries have been accused of fighting in eastern Ukraine. (file photo)

Belarus has released 32 Russian citizens who were detained near Minsk last month and accused of being mercenaries plotting to “destabilize” the situation in Belarus around the August 9 presidential election.

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office posted a statement on August 14 that the men had been released and returned to Russia. He added that they will not face criminal charges in Russia, even though mercenary activity is illegal under Russian law.

A 33rd man who was arrested at the same time was not released because he also has Belarusian citizenship, in addition to his Russian passport.

Ukraine had sought the extradition of 28 of the men, saying they had fought on the side of Russia-backed separatist formations in parts of eastern Ukraine.

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The men were detained at a resort near Minsk on July 29 and identified as employees of the Russia-based Vagner private security contractor. Minsk claimed the men were in Belarus to conduct a “color revolution” as Lukashenka sought a sixth term as president in a highly contentious political campaign.

Moscow claimed the men were traveling through Belarus on their way to Istanbul before flying to “a third country.”

At the time the men were detained, Belarus claimed that up to 200 other Russian mercenaries were in the country as part of the purported destabilization plot.