The detention of 33 Russian militants in Belarus was thick with a mass of rumors and stories. Apart from the very exotic ones like the hand of Beijing, there are four main versions:
- People in transit
- Lukashenko’s overthrowers
- Lukashenko’s defenders
- Staged scenario
It is no secret that the Minsk airport was a popular transfer point for passengers even before the pandemic. But after the lockdown of entire countries and the suspension of transport links, the importance of Minsk can hardly be overestimated. Therefore, the version about people in transit does not seem far-fetched.
Critics of this version note that the very same Wagner mercenaries have long been crossing military lines and are in no way dependent on civilian restrictions. However, Russian journalists and bloggers who have been deeply involved in the topic of mercenarism confirm that mercenarism in Russia has become a large and multifaceted business in which there are different players performing different tasks.
In yesterday’s stream of «Foucault’s Pendulum,» the well-known Russian military blogger Semyon Pegov (WarGonzo), as a matter of course, discussed this same topic. Tossing aside the conspiracy theory garbage and attempts to legitimize the fighters, this important message still rang through on air.
Pegov said that in the mercenary market the company that recruited fighters to work in Venezuela and Sudan called itself the former private military company MAR with new owners close to Prigozhin. (The founder of MAR, Alexei Marushchenko, publicly denied his involvement in the transfer of militant detainees near Minsk and said that the company had closed two years ago.) The company transferred its employees through Belarus to Istanbul, and this route has been active for 4 (!!!) months. They used commercial flights because they were a new player and did not have their own facilities for large-scale work. According to Pegov, this is common practice for beginners. Pegov also said that this company was engaged in security activities, protected military sites, and did not participate in conflicts.
The Belarusian authorities knew about this transiting (if this version is correct). This is a fact and does not need to be explained to those who are relatively deeply immersed in Belarusian political life. It could not be otherwise in Belarus. There may be different versions of who exactly oversees such activity, but the fact that Alexander Lukashenko must be aware of the transit scheme is a fact.
Playing it safe
The transit version, by and large, does not even contradict the official version by Belarusian authorities. It only explains how the group of militants moved freely around Belarus and did not arouse the suspicions of security officials.
Further, variations crop up.
This is not the first time that the activity of Prigozhin’s structures has provoked a nervous reaction in Belarus. We list only what has hit the media recently.
In May 2020, under mysterious circumstances, Vladislav Rogimov, a Prigozhin political consultant and Russian citizen, fled our country, stating that he had received an order in Belarus. While in Minsk, according to Rogimov, he became a witness in a cybercrime case and decided not to tempt fate, departing for Russia in secret.
In November 2019, Russian citizen Anna Bogacheva, who is under U.S. sanctions in the case of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, was detained in Minsk. A few days later, following hysteria in the Russian media, she was released.
Therefore, this version according to which the Belarusian authorities decided to play it safe when the Prigozhin fighters suddenly «missed» their plane and then moved closer to Lukashenko’s residence on the eve of the elections, also seems to be working.
Preparing for riots
Critics of the Belarusian authorities’ decision, especially in Russia, draw attention to the fact that a mercenary team is incapable of organizing riots (the investigative committee has accused them exactly of this). They say the unit has other tasks and expertise and the fighters did not have anything illegal with them.
But in pre-election Belarus mass participation of foreign mercenaries in protests is not required. All experts have unanimously stated that our country has approached a dangerous line when blood spilled on the streets could cause the situation to explode. And Prigozhin’s thugs are good at shedding blood – two or three unexpected bloody provocations would be enough to completely change the rules of the game.
Could the Russian authorities exacerbate the situation in Belarus? They could. Moreover, the Kremlin has repeatedly proved that it is capable of even more. Was this the task set for the mercenary unit? Not necessarily. If we start with the version that the target of the fighters is Belarus then they could have arrived in the country “just in case,” to get going at the right moment if necessary.
“Just in case” a group of fighters could be in Belarus to support Lukashenko. A kind of “titushki” equivalently capable of carrying out any order. Telegram channels are chewing on this version about anonymous oligarchs close to the Belarusian authorities who procured freelancers if the Belarusian security forces waver.
This could be fraternal assistance from the neighboring regime.
This version is weak. It does not account for the Kremlin’s reaction or the possibility that someone in Lukashenko’s circle can afford to send militants and not notify their superiors. Unless we assume that the Wagnerites were summoned precisely to publicly detain them.
In general, the version about a staged scenario was the first to emerge in the public consciousness and after the disinformation stream subsided it remains the primary version. The level of trust in the Belarusian authorities is at a historical low. After the jeeps at the border, the “White Legion case,” and the Grodno provocation with the involvement of a prostitute, no one believes the Belarusian security officials or Lukashenko personally.
The most amazing thing is that none of the previous versions contradicts the staged account. It does not matter how the “Wagnerites” ended up in Belarus. It is important only that they ended up in exactly that place and at the time when the authorities really needed it – two weeks before the elections.
iSANS has already published an analysis of the situation in Belarus. The network’s experts drew attention to the rhetoric of Alexander Lukashenko, who for several months in a row in his speeches has raised the topic of “mysterious militants” planning to stage a “massacre” in Belarus. Obviously, with the help of the possibility of an external threat, the authorities are trying to unite society and preemptively extinguish any attempts by people to protest on the streets. But there is one more facet of such warnings – the threat of sudden external intervention is real.
I am far from thinking that the Belarusian authorities are not capable of using their entire toolbox of suppression if necessary. I am certain that Alexander Lukashenko is ready to do anything to maintain power. That is why he is not only capable of harsh suppression of protests but is also ready to aggravate relations with any external player. Only a lazy person would not talk about Russia as a threat, so it makes sense for the Belarusian authorities to find a move that would, on the one hand, tie the Kremlin’s hands and feet, and on the other, would justify a tough election scenario in the eyes of the West.
If there were no Russian militants, they would have to be invented. This is the ideal solution to the problem.
Why this is good
So why it is good that on July 29 the “Prigozhin” mercenaries were detained in Belarus. This is good in any way you look at it.
First, the exposure of the militants’ transit channel to hot spots and its actual closure is wonderful. It is high time for Belarus to get out of all sorts of this rubbish business and this would mean one less.
Second, even if the fighters are used during the pre-election period and released after August 9th, a bad taste will remain. Those who are interested in closer rapprochement with Russia are losing their authority and trust in Belarus. Belarus has little choice – less Russia means more Europe, as they say. (We would prefer extradition to Ukraine, of course)
Third, the Kremlin has indeed reduced its room for maneuver in any outcome of the presidential election. The exposed fighters of private military companies, whatever they do in Belarus, become hostages and living witnesses of the criminal policy of Vladimir Putin‘s associates. Any excuses by the Kremlin only raise new questions and bring the conflict to the regional and global level. A bloody scenario will point directly to Moscow.
Fourth, if we assume that we are talking about a staged setup, then the effect of it should be enough for the Belarusian authorities not to use harsher scenarios. The decrease in the chances of having a bloody massacre, as a citizen of Belarus, is good news.
Fifth, Lukashenko has a real incentive to start reforms. In fact, what the authorities have voiced is a declaration of war: a unit of a foreign state secretly infiltrated our country for terror. That is, all these «allied states,» the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), joint military doctrines, cooperation of special services – at minimum, all this should be canceled. Oddly enough, the implementation of reforms and a real scenario for the transfer of power could be a redeeming option for both Lukashenko himself and his family members. Moreover, they would be supported by the West. But that is a topic for another article.
We will find out very soon whether the current government has enough endurance and will not to plunge the country into a bloody mess. Importantly, there is still a chance for a peaceful outcome.
Материал доступен на русском языке: Почему задержание «вагнеровцев» в Беларуси — это хорошо