Belarus leader Lukashenko says Prigozhin back in Russia, Wagner deployment unclear

  • Lukashenko says Wagner boss Prigozhin no longer in Belarus
  • Terms of Wagner relocation to Belarus unresolved
  • Uncertainty surrounds deal that ended armed mutiny in Russia

MINSK, July 6 (Reuters) – The mutinous head of Russia’s Wagner group is no longer in Belarus and it is not clear if his fighters will move there, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Thursday, raising questions about the deal that ended last month’s revolt.

Lukashenko said on June 27 that Yevgeny Prigozhin had arrived in Belarus as part of the deal that defused the crisis, which had seen the Wagner fighters briefly capture the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and then march towards Moscow.

But Lukashenko, who brokered the deal, said on Thursday that Prigozhin was now in St Petersburg, Russia’s second city, or may have moved on to Moscow.

“He is not on the territory of Belarus,” Lukashenko told a news conference in Minsk.

Lukashenko also said the question of Wagner units relocating to Belarus had not been resolved, and would depend on decisions by Russia and by Wagner.

“Whether they will be in Belarus or not, in what quantity, we will figure it out in the near future,” he said.

His comments highlighted the huge uncertainties surrounding the terms and implementation of the deal that ended the mutiny, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has said could have plunged the country into civil war.

Prigozhin’s men have spearheaded much of the fighting in Ukraine but he has also accused Russia’s top brass of corruption and incompetence. Prigozhin cast the June 24 “march of justice” on Moscow as a protest against the military leadership.

INVESTIGATION

Russian state TV on Wednesday launched a fierce attack on Prigozhin and said an investigation into what had happened was still being vigorously pursued.

A business jet linked to Prigozhin left St Petersburg for Moscow on Wednesday and was heading for southern Russia on Thursday, according to flight tracking data, but it was not clear if the mercenary chief was on board.

Lukashenko said he had agreed to meet Putin in the near future and would discuss the Prigozhin situation with him.

Prigozhin is “absolutely free” and Putin will not “wipe him out”, Lukashenko added.

Lukashenko said an offer for Wagner to station some of its fighters in Belarus – a prospect that has alarmed neighbouring NATO countries – still stands.

“We are not building camps. We offered them several former military camps that were used in Soviet times, including near Osipovichi. If they agree. But Wagner has a different vision for deployment, of course, I won’t tell you about this vision,” the Belarusian leader told reporters.

Lukashenko also said he did not see a Wagner presence in Belarus as a risk to his country and did not believe Wagner would ever take up arms against Belarus. He said the Belarusian army could benefit from Wagner’s expertise.

Belarus is a close ally of Russia and last month began taking delivery of Russian tactical nuclear weapons that Putin has said are intended to deter the West from attempts to inflict a “strategic defeat” on Russia.

In comments addressed to the West, Lukashenko said: “We are not going to attack anyone with nuclear weapons. (As long as) you don’t touch us, forget nuclear weapons. But if you commit aggression, the response will be instantaneous. The targets have been defined.”

Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, writing by Mark Trevelyan
Editing by Gareth Jones

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Guy Faulconbridge

Thomson Reuters

As Moscow bureau chief, Guy runs coverage of Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Before Moscow, Guy ran Brexit coverage as London bureau chief (2012-2022). On the night of Brexit, his team delivered one of Reuters historic wins – reporting news of Brexit first to the world and the financial markets. Guy graduated from the London School of Economics and started his career as an intern at Bloomberg. He has spent over 14 years covering the former Soviet Union. He speaks fluent Russian.
Contact: +447825218698

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