Moscow: Moscow has called for the release of 33 Russians arrested in Belarus ahead of the country's presidential elections.

The Kremlin insisted the men were private security guards who missed their flight, but when they were arrested three days ago, Belarus described them as Russian mercenaries bent on fuelling unrest in the country.

Belarusian KGB officers detain a Russian man in a sanitarium outside in Minsk, Belarus. Credit:AP

The men were arrested at a hotel near Minsk, the capital, and charged with plotting acts of terror.

Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian leader of 26 years who faces what is arguably the country's most contested presidential race since the fall of the Soviet Union has claimed that the men, identified as employees of Wagner, the Russian military contractor, were sent to foment a revolution ahead of the August 9 election.

Lukashenko, a former Soviet official, has a history of blaming popular discontent on foreign interference.

With his main rivals either jailed or barred from running, the president is facing growing public frustration over a declining economy and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has history of blaming difficulties on foreign meddling.Credit:AP

His main opponent, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the wife of a jailed blogger, has joined efforts with other disqualified candidates and mounted an impressive campaign. Up to 70,000 people gathered for her campaign rally in Minsk on Thursday.

Belarusian officials have suggested the arrested men were dispatched to help Tikhanovskaya's team, a claim she has vehemently denied.

The Kremlin criticised the arrests as something that did not happen between allies. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said the men had "nothing to do" with Belarusian affairs.

Belarus promised Russian diplomats to set up a meeting with the detained Russian citizens by the end of the day on Friday, Tass news agency quoted Russian ambassador to Belarus as saying.

Telegraph, London, Reuters

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