Kremlin Denies Trying to 'Destabilise' Belarus

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The Kremlin on Thursday denied any plan to destabilise an "ally" after Belarus arrested 33 Russians it said were mercenaries on a mission to disrupt upcoming presidential polls.

Belarusian security services on Wednesday arrested 33 Russians, saying the men were mercenaries on a mission to destabilise presidential polls in the ex-Soviet country.

Belarus's KGB security service said the detained men were members of the Wagner group, a shadowy private military firm reportedly controlled by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said claims that "organisations from Russia are sending some people to destabilise the situation in Belarus" were "nothing but insinuations". 

In Moscow's first official comment, Putin's spokesman insisted that Russia and Belarus are "allies and very close partners".

Strongman Alexander Lukashenko is seeking a sixth term in presidential polls on August 9 and the arrests came as the authorities have harshly cracked down on would-be opposition candidates and activists.

Belarusian security council chief Andrei Ravkov said the detainees face charges of preparing "terrorist acts", while adding that more than a hundred more were still at large.

Peskov questioned the basis for the arrests, saying that Russia had "no information on any unlawful actions" by the men.

The incident "requires explanation", he said.