Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny arrested on arrival as he returns home
LONG READ: The oligarch problem
COVID-19 and Trump’s indifference helped human rights abusers in 2020
Durov rejects Western funds’ offer to buy 5%-10% of Telegram with $30bn valuation
One of Russia’s biggest wood product companies, Segezha could be Sistema’s next IPO
New Ukrainian VC firm QPDigital aims to invest up to $100 million in digital startups
EBRD investments reach record €11bn in pandemic-struck 2020
OUTLOOK 2021 Lithuania
EBRD says loan to Estonia’s controversial Porto Franco project was never disbursed
Estonian premier quits after Tallinn development scandal
Czech Pirates and Mayors approve final coalition agreement for 2021 elections
OUTLOOK 2021 Czechia
BRICKS & MORTAR: Rosier future beckons for CEE retailers after year of change and disruption
OUTLOOK 2021 Hungary
Hungarian government remains silent after Capitol riots
World Bank expects modest recovery for Europe and Central Asia in 2021
OUTLOOK 2021 Slovakia
FDI inflows to CEE down 58% in 1H20 but rebound expected
Slovakia to invest €1.2bn in digitisation
BALKAN BLOG: The controversial recipe for building up Albania
Heavy flooding causes chaos in parts of Southeast Europe
Vodafone Albania plans €100mn infrastructure investments after AbCom merger
OUTLOOK 2021 Albania
Turnover rose on Bosnia's two stock exchanges in 2020 while prices fell
Storming parliaments: New Europe's greatest hits
Kyiv accuses Bosnian President Dodik of lying about icon gifted to Russian foreign minister
Sofia-based LAUNCHub Ventures holds first close of new fund on €44mn
ING THINK: Growth in the Balkans: from zero to hero again?
OUTLOOK 2020 Bulgaria
Labour demand down 28% y/y in Croatia in 2020
Zagreb Stock Exchange's Crobex10 index at highest level since March 5
OUTLOOK 2021 Kosovo
Arrera Automobili aims to launch Albania’s first supercar
World Bank revises projection for Moldova’s 2020 GDP decline to 7.2%
Moldova’s PM resigns to prepare the ground for early elections
Socialist lawmakers in Moldova scrap settlement on $1bn bank frauds
75% of Montenegrins want EU membership
Montenegro’s new ruling coalition carves up top state jobs
OUTLOOK 2021 Montenegro
North Macedonia's manufacturing confidence indicator down by 8.5 pp y/y in December
OUTLOOK 2021 North Macedonia
Transparency International warns of high corruption risk in CEE defence sectors
OUTLOOK 2021 Romania
Romania’s central bank cuts monetary policy rate by 25bp to 1.25%
Romanian construction companies' activity slows in November after intense 2020
OUTLOOK 2021 Serbia
Slovenia’s opposition files no-confidence motion against Jansa cabinet
Slovenia’s government to release funds to news agency STA after EU pressure
UK Moneyhub picks Slovenia for post-Brexit European base
Slovenia’s dire COVID-19 situation in 4Q20 caused second economic dip
Turkcell denies any affiliation with $1.6bn loan in default extended by Ziraat Bank to Virgin Islands company
BEYOND THE BOSPORUS: Let’s tentatively pencil in a date for Turkey’s hot money outflow
OUTLOOK 2021 Armenia
Armenia’s PM cautions conflict with Azerbaijan “still not settled” after trilateral meeting with Putin
COMMENT: Record high debt levels will slow post-coronavirus recovery, threaten some countries' financial stability, says IIF
OUTLOOK 2021 Georgia
Georgia’s political kingpin Bidzina Ivanishvili quits politics
Modern-day “Robin Hood” inspires Georgians drowning in debt
Iran’s navy conducts missile drill while analyst argues Trump even capable of nuclear strike in final days
TEHRAN BLOG: Who’s more credible? Johnson backing Trump’s Nobel chances or Iran applauding arrest warrant for US president?
Central Asia vaccination plans underwhelm, but governments look unruffled
Fears of authoritarianism as Kyrgyz populist wins landslide and backing for ‘Khanstitution’
OUTLOOK 2021 Kyrgyzstan
Mongolia's winter dzud set to be one of most extreme on record says Red Cross
Mongolian coal exports to China paralysed as Beijing demands virus testing of truck drivers
Mongolia fears economic damage as country faces up to its first local transmissions of coronavirus
Mongolia in lockdown after suffering first local coronavirus transmissions
OUTLOOK 2021 Tajikistan
China business briefing: Not happy with Kyrgyzstan
OUTLOOK 2021 Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan: How the Grinch stole New Year
Turkmenistan: The dammed united
COMMENT: Uzbekistan is being transformed, but where are the democratic reforms?
OUTLOOK 2021 Uzbekistan
Download the pdf version
More details of the 33 Russian mercenaries arrested in Minsk emerged on July 30. Belarus has accused a Kremlin-linked military contractor of sending 200 fighters to destabilise the country ahead of August 9 presidential elections in which long-time ruler Alexander Lukashenko is facing an unprecedented challenge.
Political analysts remain suspicious of the arrests, video of which was broadcast on national TV, saying that the drama may be a ruse by the president to call a state of emergency and clamp down on swelling opposition rallies or maybe to cancel the upcoming elections entirely.
“Obviously it is early and we don't have all the facts, but it seems highly likely the arrest of these 33 Russian Wagner contractors has more to do with domestic Belarusian politics and the election than it does with foreign interference,” tweeted Rob Lee, a PhD political science candidate who follows Belarus.
Lukashenko called an emergency meeting of his Security Council on July 29 the same day as arrests to assess the situation.
The president has been playing up the “enemy at the gate” theme for more than a week. Five days ago he said: “State Secretary Andrei Ravkov was right when he said that all modern wars begin with street protests, rallies and Maidan-type revolutions. If there are not enough people here to take part in such revolutions, they will bring them from abroad… These are professional military, gangsters who are specially trained, mostly as part of private military companies all over the world and they make big money from staging provocations in various states.”
Russia's embassy in Belarus said that they have not received any official notification from Belarusian authorities about the detention of Russian citizens, and they have requested information from Belarus.
Lukashenko claims the mercenaries were in Minsk as part of a 200-strong military team sent by Moscow to destabilise the country during the elections.
However, evidence has emerged that suggests the men were simply stopping off in Minsk, which has become a convenient transit point during the coronacrisis, en route to Libya, where they had been contracted to provide security for an oil facility.
“As it became known to the @wargonzo project from sources in the Russian special services, Minsk was used by the Wagnerites as a transshipment point for the transfer of fighters to other countries, mostly African,” according to the WarGonzo telegram channel, run by a well-known Russian reporter.
“Naturally, the Belarusian special services were aware of and warned in advance, and in fact ensured a calm process during the pandemic, the transfer of our soldiers to the eastern fronts. The coronavirus regime between Belarus and other countries, as you yourself understand, is much milder than in the case of the Russian Federation,” WarGonzo added. “Agreements on this transport corridor were reached at the highest level and Lukashenka, of course, was aware of why the Wagnerians were in Minsk and where they were going.”
The Belarus presidential press service claimed the men are employed by the Wagner company that belongs to Yegveny Prigozhin, a personal friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has been employed by the Russian government to fight in Syria and other hotspots around the world.
“If they’re guilty, we should get out of this situation with dignity,” Lukashenko said of the alleged Russian involvement. “If they’re not guilty – good, we don’t have any goal of smearing the country that’s close to us.”
The authorities published a
Lukashenko has built his presidential campaign on demonstrating that Belarus faces an external threat, and the capture of the Russian group fits that narrative, Minsk-based military analyst Yahor Lebiadok told Bloomberg.
Publically Lukashenko is playing up the security threat and has announced that controls on the border with Russia have been increased and the security services have been put on high alert.
"If these were private army fighters being sent on a mission abroad via Belarus, we would have expected to be informed by Russian special services. Neither FSB nor GRU have informed us... Judging by presence of snipers, bomb and IT experts, we must escalate our security measures,” Lukashenko said.
Another Telegram channel RSOTM that follows the private military companies claims the men belong to the Mar PMSC and were on their way to Turkey from Minsk before flying on to Libya, where they were contracted to protect an oil facility on behalf of the Turkish- backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli.
A badge from one of the mercenaries: “Our business is death and business is going well.”
Russia's Pravda also reported that, according to informed Belarusian sources, the detained Russians belong to the Mar and not Wagner private military company (PMC) and that Artyom Milyaev was responsible for recruitment.
The Mar PMC was established in 2014 by Alexei Marushchenko following the annexation of Crimea by Russia. The group has operated in many war zones but purportedly does not fight, instead providing armed protection for transport and facilities. Marushchenko claims Mar was never present in the Donbass.
“[Marushchenko] said his group wasn't fighting in the Donbass but they were helping evacuate people from there and conduct investigations. He said he had 70 people in his PMC in the Donbass in September 2015, who were almost all former military servicemen and were at least 26 years old,” Lee tweeted.
There have also been reports that several of the fighters have seen action in the breakaway Ukrainian region of Donbass, where the Kremlin has been actively supporting separatists in their military conflict with Kyiv.
The Belarus presidential press service said: "14 of the detained mercenaries were known to have fought in Donbass, therefore we have summoned the Ukrainian ambassador to discuss next steps."
“According to the Ukrainian site Myrotvorets, which tracks combatants who fought in Ukraine, three of the detained Russians fought in the Donbass,” Lee said. Myrotvorets list of Russians known to have fought in the Donbass contains 16 of the mercenaries’ names.
Zachary Prilepin, the Russian author who boasts of killing many Ukrainian soldiers during his time fighting in Donbass, says some of the Russians arrested in Belarus were members of his battalion but believes they were simply transiting.
“Wagner is currently heavily involved in Libya, and it is increasingly likely that a large battle will occur in the city of Sirte in the near future. These contractors arrested in Belarus may have been much-needed reinforcements,” Lee added.
Read in IntelliNews Pro
Get IntelliNews Pro
here to continue reading this article
and 5 more for free or purchase
12 months full website access including
the bne Magazine for just $250/year.
Register to read the bne monthly magazine for
Password could contain only
and have 8-20 symbols length.
Please complete your registration by confirming your
A confirmation email has been sent to the email
address you provided.
can't be empty.
No user with
this email address.
Access recovery request has expired, or you are using
the wrong recovery token. Please, try again.
Access recover request has expired.
Please, try again.
To continue viewing our content you need to complete
the registration process.
Please look for an email that was sent to
with the subject line
"Confirmation bne IntelliNews access". This email will have
instructions on how to complete registration
process. Please check in your "Junk" folder in
case this communication was misdirected in your
If you have any questions please contact us at email@example.com
Sorry, but you have used all your free articles fro
this month for bne IntelliNews. Subscribe
to continue reading for only $119 per year.
Your subscription includes:
For the meantime we are also offering a free
digital weekly newspaper to subscribers to
the online package.
Click here for more subscription options,
including to the print version of our
flagship monthly magazine:
Take a trial to our premium daily news
service aimed at professional investors that
covers the 30 countries of emerging
For any other enquiries about our
products or corporate discounts please
contact us at
If you no longer wish to receive
Magazine annual print
Website & Archive
Combined package: web
access & magazine print
Take a trial to our premium daily news service
aimed at professional investors that
covers the 30 countries of emerging Europe: