Wagner boss Prigozhin is in Russia, Belarus ruler Lukashenko says

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Yevgeny Prigozhin, 24 Jun 23IMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS
Image caption,

Prigozhin’s mutiny saw Wagner take over military facilities in the city of Rostov-on-Don

Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin – who led a short-lived rebellion in Russia last month – is in Russia and not Belarus, the leader of Belarus says.

Prigozhin’s whereabouts have been a mystery since the mutiny.

Under the deal to end the stand-off, charges against him were dropped and he was offered a move to Belarus.

But on Thursday Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko said: “As for Prigozhin, he’s in St Petersburg. He is not on the territory of Belarus.”

In response to Mr Lukashenko’s remarks the Kremlin said it was “not following” Mr Prigozhin’s movements.

Mr Lukashenko had helped broker the deal to end the mutiny, and just over a week ago said Prigozhin had arrived in Belarus.

The BBC tracked Prigozhin’s private jet flying to Belarus in late June, and returning to Russia the same evening.

It has since made several flights between St Petersburg and Moscow – although it is not clear if Prigozhin has been on board. The BBC also can’t verify Mr Lukashenko’s claim about the Wagner leader’s current location.

On Thursday Mr Lukashenko added that “as far as I know” the rest of the Wagner fighters were still at their bases – which could include eastern Ukraine or a training base in Russia’s Krasnodar region.

The Belarus leader said an offer for Wagner to station some of its fighters in Belarus – a prospect that has alarmed neighbouring Nato countries – still stands and he has offered several Soviet-era military sites for their use.

“But Wagner have a different vision,” he said, adding: “Of course I won;t tell you about that.”

“At present, the issue of their relocation has not been resolved.”

Mr Lukashenko – who has ruled Belarus since 1994 and is widely thought to have rigged 2020 elections to maintain power – said he did not see Wagner fighters moving to Belarus as a risk and did not believe they would ever take up arms against his country.

The previous night, Russian state TV appeared to turn on Prigozhin by showing off his wealth and weapons inside a “palace” of his which had been raided by police.

Footage showed bundles of cash, a collection of wigs, a fully-equipped medical treatment room and gold bars.

The Wagner Group is a private army of mercenaries that has been fighting alongside the regular Russian army in Ukraine.

Media caption,

Watch: Tracking Wagner’s day of rebellion… in 82 seconds

Prigozhin’s mutiny saw Wagner mercenaries cross from field camps in Ukraine into the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, seizing command of some military facilities.

Wagner fighters then travelled north towards Moscow, prompting the Kremlin to introduce tighter security in many regions, including the capital.

Russian President Vladimir Putin later said Russian pilots were killed during the mutiny and it also appears to be the case that several aircraft were destroyed.

Mr Putin initially accused the group of treason, but under the deal that brought an end to the mutiny, Prigozhin was promised security and the Russian criminal case against Wagner was dropped.

Its fighters were told they could either sign regular army contracts, go home or head to Belarus.

Recent satellite images have shown what looks like tents being erected at a former military base close to Minsk, but there has been no sign yet that this has happened

New structures in Military site in Belarus

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