Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has said Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin is in Russia – and Vladimir Putin will not “wipe” him out.
Mr Lukashenko said Prigozhin may be in St Petersburg or Moscow, and insisted he is “absolutely free”, adding his Wagner troops remain at the camps where they had stayed before the group’s aborted coup attempt last month.
“As for Yevgeny Prigozhin, he is in St Petersburg where he is this morning, maybe he went to Moscow, maybe somewhere else but he’s not in the territory of Belarus”, Mr Lukashenko told reporters on Thursday.
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Prigozhin not in Belarus, says Lukashenko
The 62-year-old has not been seen in public since he was driven out of the Russian city of Rostov after he ordered his men to stand down and speculation has continued over his future and that of his mercenary group.
Last week, Mr Lukashenko confirmed the exiled leader was in his country following a Belarus-brokered deal between the Kremlin and Prigozhin which brought an end to the mercenary chief’s armed mutiny on 24 June.
Mr Lukashenko, a close ally of Mr Putin, did not specify the location of the camps but Prigozhin’s mercenaries fought alongside Russian forces in Ukraine before their revolt.
His comments follow Russian media reports claiming Prigozhin was spotted in St Petersburg.
Sky’s security and defence editor Deborah Haynes says if the reports are true, they speak of “unresolved issues”.
She said: “If he is actually on his way to Moscow that doesn’t speak of defiance, it speaks more of unresolved issues surrounding the whole extraordinary affair, which only two and a half weeks ago saw the Russian president facing the gravest threat to his authority during more than 20 years in power.”
Asked if Prigozhin and his mercenaries were going to move to Belarus, Mr Lukashenko answered evasively that it would depend on the decisions taken by the Wagner chief and the Russian government.
The president has said previously that he does not think Wagner’s presence in Belarus could lead to the destabilisation of his country.
It comes as Prigozhin’s St Petersburg palace was raided by Russian security services.
The FSB says it found gold bars, a stuffed alligator and a cupboard full of wigs at the residence as the pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia published images and video of the raid yesterday.
While the exact terms of the Belarus-brokered deal are unclear, it is believed that Prigozhin agreed to relocate to Belarus.
The Russian president described Wagner’s brief rebellion as “treason” and “a stab in the back”.
However, after it was called off, the Kremlin said all criminal charges against Prigozhin would be dropped and Wagner fighters would not be prosecuted.
The group has been responsible for some of Moscow’s successes in the war in Ukraine and helped capture the city of Bakhmut after months of bloody fighting.