Belarus Reveals Wagner Leader Who Incited Mutiny Is in Russia, Calling Kremlin’s Tactics into Question

by Michael Nguyen
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Wagner mercenary leader in Russia

Belarus Reveals Wagner Leader Who Incited Mutiny Is in Russia, Calling Kremlin’s Tactics into Question

The head of the mercenary group who initiated a short-lived mutiny against the Kremlin is currently in Russia, with his Wagner troops stationed in their field camps, the president of Belarus declared on Thursday. This revelation brings about new uncertainties about the agreement that concluded the unprecedented challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s reign.

The claim made by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko could not be independently confirmed, and the Kremlin remained silent on the location of Yevgeny Prigozhin. However, reports from Russian media indicate that he was recently seen at his offices in St. Petersburg.

It is unclear whether Prigozhin’s presence in Russia breaches the agreement that permitted the Wagner leader to relocate to Belarus in exchange for the cessation of the rebellion and a promise of amnesty for him and his soldiers. The reports do, however, suggest that the agreement may have provided him with the opportunity to wrap up his affairs in Russia.

If these assertions are true, it might imply that the threat presented by Prigozhin has not yet been fully neutralized and that the Kremlin is dealing cautiously with him until it decides how to handle the troops who might still be loyal to him. Putin has proposed that Wagner troops can join the Russian military, retire from service, or migrate to Belarus.

Despite the ambiguity surrounding the agreement, which Lukashenko negotiated, the Belarusian president asserted last week that the mercenary leader was in Belarus. On Thursday, he informed international reporters that Prigozhin was in St. Petersburg and had the freedom to travel to Moscow, with Wagner troops stationed in their camps. The locations of these camps remain undisclosed, but it is known that Prigozhin’s mercenaries have previously fought alongside Russian forces in eastern Ukraine and have bases within Russia.

Lukashenko revealed that the cash and weapons seized by Russian authorities have been returned to Prigozhin. When questioned about Prigozhin’s location, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment but reiterated that the agreement ending the mutiny included Prigozhin’s move to Belarus.

The Belarusian government has offered Wagner, a private military contractor globally known for fighting for Russia’s interests, the use of its military camps. The company, however, is yet to make a decision. The Kremlin has downplayed the fact that Prigozhin has evaded punishment for his rebellion, while other critics of Putin have faced severe prison sentences, exile, or even death, claiming the agreement with Wagner’s head was necessary to prevent substantial bloodshed.

Lukashenko dismissed the idea that Putin might order Prigozhin’s death, stating that it would not occur. It has been reported that images from Prigozhin’s opulent mansion showcase stacks of cash, gold bullion, and a jacket adorned with medals, including the Hero of Russia medal. The mansion also displays a series of selfies showcasing him in various disguises, mirroring Wagner’s deployments to Syria and various African countries.

Asked about whether Prigozhin and his mercenaries would eventually relocate to Belarus, Lukashenko responded ambiguously, suggesting it would depend on the decisions made by the Wagner chief and the Russian government. He also mentioned that any Wagner troops present in his country would need to sign a contract with Belarusian authorities outlining their actions’ conditions and limitations.

Lukashenko dismissed the idea that the mercenaries might attack Ukraine from Belarusian territory, a staging ground previously used by Russian troops ahead of their invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

During their brief revolt, Prigozhin’s mercenaries swiftly overtook the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, capturing the military headquarters before progressing to within 200 kilometers of the Russian capital. Prigozhin termed it a “march of justice” aimed at removing his longtime adversaries — the Russian defense minister and the country’s chief military officer, whose management of the war in Ukraine he criticized.

Facing minimal resistance, the Wagner fighters were successful in dismantling occasional roadblocks, downing at least six helicopters and a command post aircraft, leading to the death of at least 10 airmen. Following the negotiation of the deal, Prigozhin commanded his troops to return to their camps.

This abortive rebellion highlighted the most significant challenge to Putin’s reign in over two decades, revealing his vulnerabilities and undermining the Kremlin’s authority. Lukashenko claimed he cautioned Prigozhin that he and his troops would face destruction if they failed to strike a swift deal to end their rebellion and that Belarus would dispatch a brigade to assist in protecting Moscow.

Addressing the issue of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Lukashenko asserted they serve solely defensive purposes, with both Putin and Lukashenko confirming that some have already been relocated to Belarus. “If Belarus faces an aggression, the answer will come instantly,” Lukashenko added.

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