Russia claimed on Wednesday it has evidence that the US’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was involved in the arrest of 33 Russians in Belarus last year.
Russians allegedly linked to private military contractor Wagner were arrested in July 2020 on charges of attempted interference in the presidential election held in Belarus last August.
They were released a month later after several rounds of talks between Moscow and Minsk.
The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a statement that there were clear traces of the CIA’s involvement in the incident.
It said the CIA worked out the operation with the goal to divide Russia and Belarus and supported it financially, while the Ukrainian intelligence was “a direct executor.”
“The task of the Americans was known, they acted exclusively within the framework of this geopolitical task – the rupture of Russian-Belarusian relations,” the FSB said.
If successful, the operation would have dealt a very heavy blow to relations between Russia and Belarus, and it would have taken a long time to address the situation, the statement added.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was aware of US involvement from the “very beginning.”
“From the very beginning, from the moment of the arrest, Moscow spoke about the involvement of the US intelligence,” he said at a news conference.
“In this case, this is an additional, indirect confirmation that the traces [of CIA involvement] are not so deeply hidden.”
The August 2020 presidential election in Belarus was won by Alexander Lukashenko, a staunch Moscow ally who has ruled the former Soviet republic for more than 26 years.
His victory sparked months of mass protests in the country, with the opposition accusing Lukashenko of rigging the polls and demanding he step down.
Thousands were arrested as the government cracked down on the demonstrations, which were eventually quelled by the end of 2020.