Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin reaches Belarus after brief revolt in Russia

Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin is in Belarus and some of his troops are welcome to stay "for some time" at their own expense, says Belarusian President Lukashenko. (Photo/AFP)

Belarus has welcomed the head of the Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin into exile as Russia's President Vladimir Putin sought to shore up his authority by thanking regular troops for averting a civil war.

President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday confirmed Prigozhin was in Belarus, and said he and some of his troops were welcome to stay "for some time" at their own expense.

Prigozhin has not been seen since Saturday, when he waved to well-wishers from a vehicle in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don.

On Tuesday morning, a private jet believed to belong to him flew from Rostov to an air base southwest of the Belarusian capital of Minsk, according to data from FlightRadar24.

Meanwhile, Moscow said preparations were under way for Wagner's troops fighting in Ukraine, who numbered 25,000 according to Prigozhin, to hand over their heavy weapons to Russia's military.

Prigozhin had said such moves were being taken ahead of a July 1 deadline for his fighters to sign contracts, "which he opposed", with Russia's military command.

Asked whether Putin's power was diminished by the sight of Wagner's rebel mercenaries seizing a military HQ, advancing on Moscow and shooting down military aircraft along the way, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused political commentators of exaggerating, adding that: "We don't agree."

Putin himself attempted to portray the dramatic events at the weekend as a victory for the Russian army.

"You de facto stopped civil war," Putin told troops from the defence ministry, National Guard, FSB security service and Interior Ministry gathered in a Kremlin courtyard to hold a minute's silence for airmen slain by Wagner.

"In the confrontation with rebels, our comrades-in-arms, pilots, were killed. They did not flinch and honourably fulfilled their orders and their military duty," Putin said.

Wagner troops received $1 billion in salaries

Prigozhin, a former Kremlin ally and catering contractor who built Russia's most powerful private army, has boasted — with some support from news footage — that his men were cheered by civilians during his short-lived revolt.

But Putin insisted that Wagner's ordinary fighters had seen that "the army and the people were not with them."

In a separate meeting with defence officials, Putin confirmed that Wagner was wholly funded by the Russian federal budget, despite operating as an independent company, adding that in the past year alone since the assault on Ukraine, Moscow had paid the group around $1 billion in salaries.

Russian officials have been trying to put the crisis behind them for three days, with the FSB dropping charges against rank-and-file Wagner troopers and the military preparing to disarm the group.

"Preparations are underway for the transfer of heavy military equipment from the private military company Wagner to units of the Russian armed forces," the Defence Ministry said.

Belarus strongman Lukashenko is seeking credit for stepping in to mediate Wagner's U-turn on the road to Moscow and by Tuesday he had criticised Russia's handling of the issue.

The feud between Wagner and the army had escalated for months, with Prigozhin making increasingly scathing statements against the generals' handling of the offensive in Ukraine, blaming them for thousands of Russian losses.

"We missed the situation, and then we thought that it would resolve itself, but it did not resolve," Lukashenko said.

"Two people who fought at the front clashed, there are no heroes in this case," he added, in an apparent reference to the Wagner chief and his rival, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

'We could waste him'

Talking to his own military officials, Lukashenko revealed that he had urged Putin not to kill the rogue mercenary.

"I said to Putin: we could waste him, no problem. If not on the first try, then on the second. I told him: don't do this," Lukashenko said, according to state media.

In his address, Putin also stressed that the revolt had not forced Russia to withdraw any of its units from Ukraine, where fighting continued as Kyiv's brigades pursued their counteroffensive in their nation's east and south.

"All military formations continued to wage a heroic fight at the front," Putin noted.


Source: TRT