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Minsk orchestrated apprehension of Russians for PR effect ahead of elections, expert says

The detained are accused of plotting to destabilize the situation ahead of the August 9 presidential election in Belarus, according to official Minsk

MOSCOW, July 30. /TASS/. The apprehension of the Russian citizens in Belarus aims to create a PR effect for incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election campaign, and it would barely have any long-term consequences, says Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Institute for CIS Studies think tank.

He expressed hope that "the pursuit of political points" will not go any further and will not lead to extradition of some of the apprehended Russians to Ukraine.

"I think, I hope at least, that this situation won’t lead to anything but a PR outcome, needed by President Alexander Lukashenko for his election campaign," he said.

The expert opined that Minsk takes advantage of the fact that Russia, for the sake of friendship with the Belarusian people, never allowed ill-conceived actions in response to sharp statements made in Belarus before, and that Minsk counts on a reserved reaction in this case as well.

The analyst underscored that Minsk had absolutely no reason to apprehend the Russians. "They absolutely legally entered Belarusian territory on their own documents, carrying nothing forbidden with them - weapons or anything," the expert said.

The incident

According to reports from the Belarusian side, early on July 29, 32 Russian citizens were apprehended near Minsk, and one more was detained in southern Belarus. They are claimed to be involved in a private military company. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko conducted an emergency meeting with the national Security Council. Following the meeting, State Secretary of the Security Council Andrey Ravkov announced that border control will be tightened, including on border with Russia; besides, security measures will be taken during mass events, including those as part of the August 9 presidential election campaign.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier, that Moscow still did not have thorough information about the incident, including any unlawful actions that could have triggered the dozens of detentions. According to Peskov, Moscow does not recognize the Ukrainian citizenship that some of those presently in custody hold. Peskov called any statements regarding the incident’s connections to the upcoming presidential elections in Belarus "theories."

On Thursday, Ravkov told journalists that a criminal case was initiated against the Russians, who are suspected of plotting a terror attack. He added that, according to Belarusian national security agencies, "up to 200 militants" stay on Belarusian territory. Searches are underway.