Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and tributes paid to the Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin. Image: AP
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday said that he had warned the shadowy private paramilitary group Wagner’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin and its commander Dmitry Utkin, callsign ‘Wagner’ to "watch out" for possible threats to their lives. In an explosive claim made on August 25, Lukashenko said that he had “insisted that Wagner boss stay in Belarus,” Belarusian state news agency BeLTA reported.
Prigozhin was exiled to Belarus after he had led a short-lived mutiny in Russia back in the month of June in defiance to the Russian Defence Ministry, and the so-called Russia's ‘bureaucratic’ leadership. Lukashenko had brokered a deal between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prigozhin, in which the latter was exiled to the neighbouring Belarus.
In a state address, Putin had vowed to crush Prigozhin's mutiny which he labelled as 'treason' and punish “those who decided to go against the fatherland.” Russia's President compared the armed rebellion of Wagner mercenaries to a wartime turmoil that ushered in the revolution of 1917 as they declared that the key military facilities in Russia’s southern city of Rostov-on-Don were under their control. Putin said that the mutiny amounted to “a deadly threat to our statehood” and pledged “tough actions.”
“All those who prepared the rebellion will suffer inevitable punishment. The armed forces and other government agencies have received the necessary orders,” Putin said during the state address in June.
On Friday, Lukashenko revealed that he had, in fact, persuaded Putin personally not to "wipe out" Wagner boss Prigozhin, using the prison slang. The Belarusian strongman added that Wagner's boss “had twice dismissed concerns” raised by him about the possible threats to his life. Lukashenko said that he insisted that the Wagner boss remains hidden and low-key inside Belarus.
Even during the mutiny, “I warned Prigozhin that he would ‘die’ if he continued to march on Moscow,” the Belarusian President said. Wagner’s founder, back then had dismissed such concerns and answered: ”'To hell with it — I will die.’" Lukashenko noted that he warned both Prigozhin and Wagner commander Utkin when they came to see him, “Lads — you watch out.” But, they hadn’t taken the threats extremely seriously. Lukashenko added that the Wagner fighters would remain in Belarus.
"Wagner lived, Wagner is living, and Wagner will live in Belarus," Lukashenko said. "The core remains here."
PMC Wagner fighters pay tribute to Prigozhin. Credit: AP
Last week, Prigozhin released his first-ever video address since exile, approximately two months after Wagner fighters unfolded the uprising inside Russia. In the footage, which was published on Telegram by his press service, Prigozhin was seen standing in a desert in an unknown country in Africa. Wagner's founder said that his mercenaries have been conducting reconnaissance and search activities across the African region and that they are “making Russia even greater on all continents, and Africa even more free."
Prigozhin was attired in a military camouflage and held a rifle in his hands as he delivered the remark. Wagner is recruiting more people and the group “will fulfil the tasks that were set," he said. Prigozhin's press service said that he is inviting investors from Russia to invest in the Central African Republic through 'Russian House', a cultural centre in the African nation’s capital.
A body bag is carried away from the wreckage of a crashed private jet in the Tver region, Russia. Credit: AP
Belarus President Lukashenko dismissed speculations that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have had a role to play in the crash of the plane on which Wagner boss Prigozhin was travelling with nine other passengers. "I know Putin,” Belarusian strongman, the staunchest ally of Russia's President Putin, said. “He is calculating, very calm, even tardy," Lukashenko spoke of Putin. "I cannot imagine that Putin did it, that Putin is to blame. It's just too rough and unprofessional a job,” said Lukashenko.
Meanwhile, in an official statement released on August 25, the Kremlin outrightly denied that Wagner’s boss Prigozhin was killed on Russia's orders. Kremlin labelled the “Western propaganda” as an "absolute lie.” It, although, did not officially make comments about Prigozhin’s death saying that authorities have been waiting for forensic test results. Putin, in a rare TV address, expressed his "condolences" for the victims of the plane crash, describing Prigozhin as a smart businessman “who made mistakes.”
Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Credit: AP
"I knew Prigozhin for a very long time, since the early '90s. He was a man of complicated fate, and he made serious mistakes in his life, but he achieved the right results," Putin said of Wagner's boss. "As far as I know, he just returned from Africa yesterday and met with some officials there," Putin stressed, adding that the investigation of the plane crash "will take some time." Meanwhile, after Prigozin's death, it is rumoured that his son Pavel Prigozhin would manage the company, and a commander named Anton Elizarov, call sign Lotus, who is currently in Africa will assume leadership role.