Belarus’ special forces have arrested 33 Russian mercenaries after receiving information that more than 200 fighters had entered the country to destabilise it before the August 9 presidential election, state media reported Wednesday.

The mercenaries reportedly worked for the Russian private military contractor Wagner. Local media reported that the group wore military-style clothing and did not behave like Russian tourists usually do.

President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly accused Russia of trying to force Belarus to abandon its post-Soviet independence. Belarus relies on subsidies and political support from Moscow.

On Wednesday, Lukashenko said he would demand an explanation from Russia. On Thursday, Russia’s ambassador to Belarus said he had been summoned to the foreign ministry.

The Kremlin and the Russian foreign ministry did not immediately react to the report.

The Wagner company is linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman who was indicted in the United States for meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The group has also allegedly deployed military contractors to eastern Ukraine, Syria and Libya.


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