MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s main security agency says it has arrested two Belarusians who it said were preparing a plot to overthrow Belarus’ government and kill authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
One of the men arrested, Aleksandr Feduta, was Lukahsenko’s spokesman when he was first elected in 1994, but later joined the opposition. The other, lawyer Yuras Zyankovich, has dual Belarusian-U.S. citizenship.
The Federal Security Service said Saturday that the two have been handed over to Belarus. Russian authorities were alerted to information about the men’s plans by the Belarusian security service, the KGB.
The Russian agency said the two suspects came to Moscow to meet with opposition-minded Belarusian generals, whom they told that “for the successful implementation of their plan, it was necessary to physically eliminate practically the entire top leadership of the republic.”
“They detailed the plan for a military coup, in particular, including the seizure of radio and television centers to broadcast their appeal to the people, blocking the internal troops and riot police units loyal to the current government,” the Russian agency said.
Lukashenko told Belarusian television Saturday that investigators found evidence of foreign involvement in the alleged plot, “most likely the FBI, the CIA.”
After nationwide protests against Lukashenko broke out last year after his disputed election win, he repeatedly blamed Western countries for allegedly plotting his downfall or even preparing for a military intervention.
The protests, some of which attracted as many as 200,000 people, started in August after an election that official results say gave Lukashenko a sixth term in office. Opposition members and even some poll workers said the results were fraudulent.
Security forces then cracked down hard on the demonstrations, arresting more than 34,000 people, many of whom were beaten. Most prominent opposition figures have fled Belarus or have since been jailed.