“Russia is afraid of losing us,” said Mr. Lukashenko, accusing the Kremlin of trying to “suffocate” Belarus.
Russia, long accustomed to Mr. Lukashenko’s eccentric ways but shocked by his sudden burst of open hostility, offered its own bizarre explanation of what the men were doing at the sanitarium. The Russian ambassador in Minsk claimed that the men had simply missed a flight at the airport and needed a place to stay before catching another, but there was no explanation as to why they had chosen rooms in a resort on the opposite side of town, away from the airport.
For staff at the sanitarium, the news that their guests were part of a covert Russian military operation to sow chaos only compounded their own confusion.
Yelena, a housekeeper in the building where the men stayed, said she was surprised to find out that the Russians had anything to do with the military.
“They didn’t look like fighters, only a few looked strongly built,” said Yelena, who refused to give her last name for fear of repercussions from the management. “They were behaving well, very culturally, they went to the outdoor gym,” she said. “Perhaps, they underwent some medical treatment, took baths.”
The resort — called Belorusochka, which means “a Belarus woman” — seemed an odd choice, more a time machine for people nostalgic for the Soviet Union than a place anyone interested in plotting a coup would ever stay.