MINSK: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who last month brokered a deal to end an armed mutiny in Russia, said on Thursday that Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was no longer in Belarus.
Lukashenko said on June 27 that Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Group whose fighters briefly captured a southern Russian city and marched towards Moscow, had arrived in Belarus as part of the June 24 deal that defused the crisis.
But Lukashenko told reporters on Thursday: “As for Prigozhin, he’s in St Petersburg (Russia’s second biggest city).
He is not on the territory of Belarus.” 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 an offer for Wagner to station some of its fighters in Belarus - a prospect that has alarmed neighbouring Nato countries - still stands.
He said he did not see it as a risk to Belarus and did not believe Wagner fighters would ever take up arms against his country.
Lukashenko has spoken proudly of his role in ending the armed mutiny, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has said could have plunged Russia into civil war. Last week Lukashenko said he had persuaded Putin not to “wipe out” Prigozhin.
But much remains unclear about the terms of the deal Lukashenko brokered, and whether it is being implemented as agreed.
Russian state TV on Wednesday launched a fierce attack on Prigozhin and said an investigation into what had happened was still being vigorously pursued.