MOSCOW, August 27. /TASS/. The detention of 33 Russian citizens in Belarus in late July was set up by Ukrainian and US intelligence agencies, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with Rossiya-24 channel on Thursday.
"This is a joint operation of Ukrainian and American intelligence agencies. This is known on good authority now. Some participants of this process, observers, well-informed people do not even hide this at this point," the Russian president said, commenting on the incident.
Putin added that the detained citizens were headed for Latin America and the Middle East for "absolutely legal work."
"However, they were dragged on Belarusian territory and painted as a potential force used to destabilize the situation during the election campaign, which was absolutely untrue," the president explained. "I would like to note once again that those people were on their way to work in a third country. They were lured there, dragged over the border. Our border officials did not let them out, by the way, they could not have entered. However, they were actually brought in using fake documents."
On July 29, 32 Russian citizens were apprehended near Minsk, and one more was detained in southern Belarus. In his address to the nation and the parliament on August 4, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the Russians were deliberately deployed to his country. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the claims that Russia might have sent its citizens to Belarus to destabilize the situation in the republic.
For its part, Ukraine claimed that 28 detained citizens had taken part in military activity in Donbass, with pending criminal proceedings launched against them in Ukraine.
On August 14, Minsk handed over the detained citizens to Moscow. Russian Ambassador to Minsk Dmitry Mezentsev later stated that the Russians had been returned in strict correspondence with the norms of international law, stressing that professional cooperation between the country’s prosecution bodies helped carry out this legal procedure.