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Moscow calls for cooperation with Minsk over detained Russians - ambassador

Dmitry Mezentsev noted that Russia also calls for a speedy release of the Russian nationals detained in Belarus

MINSK, August 1. /TASS/. Russia calls for a speedy release of the Russian nationals detained in Belarus and urges close cooperation with the Belarusian law enforcement agencies and the lawyers on the case, Russia’s Ambassador in Minsk Dmitry Mezentsev told reporters on Saturday.

"We insist that our citizens be released as soon as possible and that we closely cooperate with the Belarusian law enforcement agencies and lawyers," the Russian ambassador said.

"The complaints and double interpretations of why our citizens were staying in the Republic of Belarus can be seen as groundless and far-fetched and also extremely surprising," Mezentsev said. "There are no facts to believe that those people were up to breaking the public order. The Belarusian side has not brought them to light yet."

The ambassador informed that a meeting between consular officials and the detained Russians lasted from 10:00 p.m. Moscow time on Friday until 05:00 a.m. on Saturday. Mezentsev said that the diplomats "asked the questions they had to ask (the Russian citizens - TASS)."

"The questions were about their goals for visiting the Republic of Belarus, their plans for future movements, prison conditions and the papers shown to each detainee," the Russian ambassador added.

Mezentsev pointed out that the Russian nationals are suspected of offences under Article 293 (mass riots) and Article 13 (preparations for an offence) of Belarus’ Criminal Code.

"In other words, they are suspected of plotting mass riots, and there are no references to terrorism," the ambassador explained. "The indictment handed to each Russian national means that Belarus interprets this detention as imprisonment from today. I emphasize that one cannot agree with that since there are no reasons, nor are there facts to substantiate this suspicion," the Russian ambassador stressed.

Detention of Russian nationals

Belarus reported earlier that 33 Russian men were detained in the country in the early hours of July 29. Minsk said they were contractors of a foreign private military company. According to the latest reports, they are suspected of masterminding mass unrest. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in response that the group of Russian men was travelling to Istanbul, with a transit stopover in Minsk, and that they had all the required papers, including air tickets to their ultimate destination. Belarus’ Committee of Investigations claims that the Russians were not going to take a flight to Istanbul from Minsk.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on July 31 that Moscow had not been provided with complete information about the incident, including about any illegal activities that could prompt the arrest of the Russian nationals. Peskov dismissed allegations about a link between the incident and the upcoming presidential election in Belarus as "speculations".