Wagner Leader Yevgeny Prigozhin Returns to Russia, Contradicting Belarus’ Lukashenko

Wagner Leader Yevgeny Prigozhin Returns to Russia, Contradicting Belarus' Lukashenko
Wagner Leader Yevgeny Prigozhin Returns to Russia, Contradicting Belarus' Lukashenko
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MOSCOW — Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, has reportedly returned to Russia, contradicting the previous claims made by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. Prigozhin’s return comes after the failed uprising of Wagner mercenaries against the Russian military leadership.

Wagner Leader Yevgeny Prigozhin Returns to Russia, Contradicting Belarus' Lukashenko
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko says that Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin is still in Russia. Lukashenko is seen here at his residence, the Independence Palace, in the capital Minsk on Thursday.
Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images

Lukashenko, who played a role in negotiating an end to the insurrection by offering refuge to Prigozhin and his mercenaries in Belarus, stated during a press conference in Minsk that Prigozhin is no longer under his protection. Lukashenko further clarified that Prigozhin is currently in St. Petersburg, Russia, and not in Belarus, contrary to previous assertions.

The Belarusian president also mentioned that the relocation of the Wagner mercenaries to Belarus is still pending and suggested that the final decision lies with Moscow. However, these claims by Lukashenko and the status of the Wagner mercenaries’ relocation could not be independently verified at this time.

This recent announcement adds another twist to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Prigozhin’s whereabouts, raising doubts about the terms of the Wagner amnesty agreement with Russia that aimed to quell the rebellion.

As per the agreement, Prigozhin had pledged to withdraw his troops, and the Kremlin assured that he would not face charges for his role in the mutiny, although President Vladimir Putin labeled him a “traitor.” It was initially stipulated that Prigozhin would be exiled to Belarus, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov appeared to downplay the enforceability of the agreement by stating that they do not track Prigozhin’s movements and have no intention of doing so.

The Wagner mercenary force had briefly seized control of Rostov-on-Don, a city in southern Russia, nearly unopposed before ultimately retreating towards Moscow. Putin commended the country’s security forces for preventing the situation from descending into civil war.

Wagner Leader Yevgeny Prigozhin Returns to Russia, Contradicting Belarus' Lukashenko
Yevgeny Prigozhin is seen here in April. His current whereabouts have not been verified, though Lukashenko says the mercenary leader is now in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Despite the amnesty deal designating Belarus as Prigozhin’s destination, his actual location has remained uncertain. Recent reports indicated that a plane believed to be connected to Prigozhin had landed in Minsk but later returned to Russia.

Prigozhin himself has not made any public appearances since the conclusion of the failed uprising. However, an audio message purportedly from him was posted on a Telegram channel affiliated with the Wagner Group earlier this week. The voice resembling Prigozhin’s suggested that he and his mercenaries still have a role to play in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, expressing confidence in future victories on the frontlines.

The situation surrounding Prigozhin’s return to Russia and the status of the Wagner mercenaries in Belarus continues to unfold, raising questions about the true nature of the amnesty agreement and the potential implications for the region.

Reporting from Moscow by Charles Maynes; based in Washington, Laurel Wamsley contributed to this report.

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