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Ukraine Summons Belarusian Ambassador, Saying Release Of Russian Mercenaries Undermined Trust

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who has summoned the Belarusian ambassador to Ukraine.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says Ukraine has summoned the Belarusian ambassador for consultations on deteriorating relations between the two countries.

Ukrainian Ambassador to Belarus Igor Kizim will be summoned to Kyiv "to assess the prospects of Belarusian-Ukrainian relations in the new reality,” Kuleba said on August 17.

Kuleba said Ukraine takes issue first and foremost with the release of 32 Russian citizens detained near Minsk last month who had been accused of being mercenaries plotting to “destabilize” the situation in Belarus around the August 9 presidential election.

The Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office said on August 14 that the men had been released and returned to Russia and would not face criminal charges.

A 33rd man who was arrested with the others 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.

Kuleba said Minsk handed the men over to Russia despite the existence of “legal and moral grounds” to hand them over to Ukraine.

“This step undermined trust between our countries and dealt a heavy blow to our bilateral relations,” Kuleba said, according to Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

The men had been identified as employees of the Russia-based Vagner private security contractor. Minsk claimed the men were in Belarus to conduct a “color revolution” as Belarusian President Aleyaksandr Lukashenka sought a sixth term as president. Moscow claimed the men were traveling through Belarus on their way to Istanbul before flying to “a third country.”

After the men were released, Lukashenka accused Ukraine of unfriendly actions against Belarus, said Kuleba, who also cited Russia’s statement on August 16 that it was ready to provide aid under the terms of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as a source of contention.

This combination of facts and actions, as well as events in Belarus related to the August 9 presidential election, “radically changes the situation in Belarusian-Ukrainian relations,” Kuleba said.

It is the first time Ukraine has resorted to such a step in its relations with Belarus, “and we are doing it exclusively because of the unacceptable actions of Minsk,” Kuleba said.

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