Wagner chief Prigozhin in Russia weeks after mutiny, Belarus president says

According to Alexander Lukashenko, Prigozhin is 'absolutely free' and Putin will not 'wipe him out'

News agencies|
Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is in St. Petersburg and his Wagner troops have remained at the camps where they had stayed before a short-lived mutiny against Moscow, the president of Belarus said mid-Thursday.
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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko helped broker a deal for Prigozhin to end his rebellion on June 24 in exchange for amnesty and security guarantees for himself and his soldiers and permission to move to Belarus.
3 View gallery
רוסיה פשיטה על אחוזה של יבגני פריגוז'ין סנט פטרסבורג פאות צילומי סלפי
רוסיה פשיטה על אחוזה של יבגני פריגוז'ין סנט פטרסבורג פאות צילומי סלפי
Yevgeny Prigozhin seen in disguises that were seized from his St. Petersburg mansion
However, few details of the agreement have emerged, and the whereabouts and futures of the Wagner company’s chief and his private army have remained unclear. The Kremlin has refused to comment on Prigozhin’s location or movements since the abortive revolt.
After saying last week that Prigozhin was in Belarus, Lukashenko told international reporters Thursday that the mercenary leader was in St. Petersburg and Wagner’s troops remained in their camps.
He did not specify the location of the camps, but Prigozhin’s mercenaries fought alongside Russian forces in eastern Ukraine before their revolt.
Lukashenko said his government offered Wagner, a private military contractor founded by Prigozhin, the use of Belarusian military camps but the company had not made a final decision.
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.
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רוסיה פשיטה על אחוזה של יבגני פריגוז'ין ב סנט פטרסבורג מצבור כלי נשק
רוסיה פשיטה על אחוזה של יבגני פריגוז'ין ב סנט פטרסבורג מצבור כלי נשק
Russian forces raid Yevgeny Prigozhin's mansion in St. Petersburg and find a cache of weapons
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.
Asked if Prigozhin and his mercenaries were going to move to Belarus, Lukashenko answered evasively that it would depend on the decisions of the Wagner chief and the Russian government. The Belarusian leader said he doesn’t think Wagner’s presence in Belarus could lead to the destabilization of his country.
During their short revolt, the Wagner Group quickly swept over the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and captured military headquarters there before marching on the Russian capital. Prigozhin described it as a “march of justice” to oust the Russian defense minister and the General Staff chief.
Prigozhin claimed his troops had come within about 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) of Moscow when he ordered them to stop the advance under the deal brokered by Lukashenko.
The abortive rebellion represented the biggest threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin in his more than two decades in power and exposed the Kremlin’s weakness, eroding Putin’s authority.
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לוקשנקו, פריגוז'ין ופוטין
לוקשנקו, פריגוז'ין ופוטין
Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Alexander Lukashenko
(Photos: EPA, רויטרס, AFP)
The Wagner fighters faced little resistance, smashing occasional roadblocks and downing at least six helicopters and a command post aircraft, killing at least 10 airmen.
Lukashenko’s statement followed Russian media reports that Prigozhin was spotted in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city. His presence was seen as part of agreements that allowed him to finalize his affairs there.
Russian media outlets claimed Prigozhin retrieved cash that was confiscated during raids of his offices and a small arsenal of weapons he kept at his home in St. Petersburg.
Russian online newspaper Fontanka posted videos and photos of Prigozhin’s opulent mansion and some personal items, including a collection of wigs of various colors. It also published a collection of selfies that showed him posing in various wigs and foreign uniforms, an apparent reflection of Wagner’s deployments to Syria and several African countries.
Lukashenko said he warned Prigozhin that he and his troops would be destroyed if they failed to make a deal to end their mutiny and that Belarus would send a brigade to help protect Moscow.
He argued that the rebellion could lead to major bloodshed and plunge Russia into a civil war.
“It was necessary to nip it in the bud. It was very dangerous, as history shows,” Lukashenko said.
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."
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