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Russian warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin has been spending time in Russia, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko said, despite a peace deal with Moscow under which he had agreed to relocate to Belarus.
Prigozhin’s Wagner Group fighters had also not been transferred as the deal specified, Lukashenko claimed, while suggesting the mercenary leader was unlikely to face repercussions from the Kremlin. He said Prigozhin had been in St Petersburg but he did not know the warlord’s precise current location.
“With regards [to] Yevgeny Prigozhin, he is in St Petersburg,” Lukashenko said. “Where is he this morning? Maybe this morning he went to Moscow . . . ”
He said Prigozhin was not in jail and was unlikely to get “whacked”, suggesting that the mercenary leader is currently safe from Russian president Vladimir Putin’s security services.
“What’s going to happen to him next? Well, all kinds of things happen in life. But if you think that Putin is so malicious and vindictive that he will be ‘whacked’ tomorrow . . . No, that’s not going to happen,” Lukashenko said.
The relocation of the Russian armed group to Belarus was part of a peace deal brokered by Lukashenko between Prigozhin and the Kremlin after the Wagner boss led an aborted armed uprising against Moscow in late June, infuriating Putin.
Under the deal that ended Prigozhin’s uprising — and led the warlord to pull back the men and tanks he had sent marching on Moscow on June 22 — he had agreed to move to Belarus, according to the Kremlin. Criminal charges against him were to be dropped.
Soon after the failed uprising, Putin said Wagner fighters could choose whether to sign contracts with the defence ministry, return home or “go to Belarus”.
The Kremlin confirmed after Lukashenko’s comments on Thursday that Prigozhin was expected to depart to Belarus as part of the deal. Asked whether Prigozhin was indeed in St Petersburg, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow “does not keep track of his movements”.
“We have neither the capability nor the desire to do so,” Peskov claimed.
He added that there was no date set for a meeting between Putin and Lukashenko, and that the Kremlin could not confirm that Wagner would be one of the topics up for discussion.
A week earlier, Lukashenko said that Prigozhin had flown on the warlord’s private jet to Belarus, and a Wagner-affiliated social media channel had shared pictures of tent camps being constructed in the country.
But the plane has since flown several times from Belarus to Moscow and St Petersburg and back again, Flightradar24 data shows, raising questions over whether Prigozhin was sticking to the deal.
In a press conference on Thursday, Lukashenko said the Wagner fighters were still in their base camps near the front line in Ukraine. The camps are believed to be in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, an area under Russian control since 2014. At the time of his uprising, Prigozhin said the men numbered 25,000.
“Will they end up in Belarus or not, and in what quantity — we’ll figure this out in the near future,” Lukashenko said, adding that he planned to meet Putin soon to discuss Wagner and how the group would function in future.
Lukashenko said that camps were not being set up for the Wagner fighters in Belarus. “We are not erecting new camps. We offered them several former military camps, which were used back in wartime,” he added.
Despite being accused of treachery by Putin on the day of the insurrection, the Wagner Group has continued to recruit troops for the war in Ukraine, according to its job adverts on the Telegram messaging app.
The group also appears to have continued some of its activities in Africa, where it functions as a private military company, contracted by local governments.
If Wagner did relocate to Belarus, Lukashenko said, it would not pose risks to Minsk.
“I am not at all concerned or bothered that we will have a certain number of these fighters stationed,” Lukashenko said. “I do not think that Wagner will rebel and turn its guns against the Belarusian authorities . . . Anything may happen in life, but I do not see this on the cards today.”
Instead, he said, the fighters could be deployed to provide security for the country. “We will have them stationed under certain conditions. The main condition is that if we need to activate this unit for national defence, it will be activated immediately. And their experience will be in demand.”