Four alleged Polish spies convicted in Belarus

Four Belarus officers deemed to be spying for Poland have been sentenced from 7 to 12 years in prison by the Belarusian Supreme Court, Polish Radio reports. The trial, which was conducted behind closed doors, lasted only 10 days. All of the men were "convicted of espionage to the detriment of Belarus' security and defensive ability".

Vladimir Russkin was found guilty of organising espionage, while Sergei Kornilyuk, Pavel Petkevich and Viktor Bogdan were convicted of treason, news agency Interfax reports. Russkin was also found guilty of organising the collection and passing of secret information to foreign intelligence. The Supreme Court's military collegium found the four guilty of premeditated espionage which caused damage to Belarus' foreign security. All four were stripped of their military ranks that ranged from lieutenant to major.

The story exposing a supposed network of spies was given in a program on the Belarusian national TV ONT channel on 15 July. The Associated Press recalls that when the arrests were announced in July, the deputy chief of the Belarusian KGB said Polish intelligence was eager to obtain information on Russian anti-missile defense systems in Belarus, especially long-range S-300 air defense missiles. A major of the Russian Armed Forces gave himself up to Russia's FSB and was acting as a witness during the trial. According to the Belarus's security service - the KGB - the Belarusian suspected of organizing the spy network was caught red handed while trying to pass top-secret information to the West via Poland, Polish Radio marks. Prosecutors have said the officers transported documents across the border into Poland inside the kind of fire extinguisher motorists in Belarus are required to keep in their cars.

The four stood silently in handcuffs as the Supreme Court's military branch read out the verdict, Polish Radio adds. Belarusian law stipulates that treason is punishable by death; the court did not explain why they instead received prison sentences.