Belarusian authorities say they have detained 32 Russian members of the private military company Wagner, who were allegedly plotting to “destabilize” the country ahead of a presidential election on August 9.

Belarusian national news agency BelTA reported on July 29 that security forces detained 32 foreign members of the Wagner Group at a health resort near Minsk overnight, after receiving information that more than 200 Russian military contractors had arrived in Belarus on July 24 to "destabilize the situation in the country ahead of the election.”

Another suspect was reportedly detained in the south of the country.

BelTA published a list of the 33 Russian citizens, aged between 24 and 55, who had been apprehended.

BelTA reported that the detainees’ behavior was “uncharacteristic for Russian tourists” because they didn't drink alcohol and their “uniform military-style clothing” drew attention.

The Russian Embassy in Minsk said it had received notification from Belarus's Foreign Ministry about the detention of its citizens, according to Radio Liberty.

The Russian business newspaper Kommersant gathered information on three of the 33 detainees: Andrey Bakunovich, born December 30, 1977; Takhir Bakhtigarayev, born April 4, 1980; and Fyodor Mikhailovich Sergeyev, born May 17, 1987.

The independent Belarusian TV channel Belsat has referred to Bakunovich as a Wagner group mercenary repeatedly.  In 2018, Ukraine’s Security Service (the SBU) listed him among 11 Belarusians allegedly fighting on behalf of the Wagner PMC.

As far as Takhir Bakhtigarayev is concerned, Kommersant says that a person with this full name and date of birth is mentioned in a 2018 article about the Wagner group by the Ukrainian online outlet PolitInfo.  In the article, Bakhtigarayev is referred to as a driver-mechanic for the Wagner PMC’s fourth reconnaissance and assault company, under the callsign “Fartovy.”  According to information available on the website of a judicial district in Perm, a person with this last name and initials was fined 1,000 rubles for shoplifting in 2014.

As far as Fyodor Sergeyev is concerned, Kommersant found a person with this same full name and birthdate on the Russian social networking site Odnoklassniki.  His profile indicates that he lives in Astrakhan and served in the Russian Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops.  He’s also a member of the following groups: “Donbass Volunteers,” “Weapons and Military Equipment,” and “Thank God We’re Cossacks!!! Andreyevsky Khutor!!!”  His profile page shared a number of posts about the war in Ukraine’s Donbas.  In 2018, Fyodor Sergeyev was sentenced to two years probation for the illegal possession and transportation of weapons.  He was arrested by the FSB and pleaded guilty.

According to Meduza, Russian writer Zakhar Prilepin recognized several of the arrestees as members of his battalion that fought on the side of Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.  Prilepin expressed doubts that the mercenaries were in Minsk to destabilize the situation in Belarus.  According to him, they were stopping over in Belarus on their way to other parts of the world.

Similar claims also appeared on the Telegram channel WarGonzo, which is run by Russian war correspondent Semyon Pegov.  According to Pegov, the mercenaries were using Belarus as transit point before shipping out to countries in Africa.  

The Wagner Group, also known as Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner is a Russian paramilitary organization.  Some have described it as a private military company (or a private military contracting agency), whose contractors have reportedly taken part in various conflicts, including operations in the Syrian Civil War on the side of the Syrian government as well as, from 2014 until 2015, in the War in Donbass in Ukraine aiding the separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics.

Others are of the opinion that PMC Wagner is really a unit of the Russian Ministry of Defense in disguise, which is used by the Russian government in conflicts where deniability is called for, as its forces are trained on MoD installations.  It is believed to be owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In 2018, the U.S. State Department blacklisted the group along with more than 30 other Russian companies and individuals with ties to military and intelligence agencies.