Wagner Chief Lands in Belarus as Putin Says ‘Civil War’ Averted
Belarus’s president said Yevgeny Prigozhin had arrived in his country, as Vladimir Putin said Russia averted “civil war” after the mutiny by fighters loyal to the mercenary leader.
“I hope that no one stole anything, or, let’s say, stole just a little, in the course of this work,” Putin said. “But we will of course look into all this.”
The crisis erupted after Prigozhin accused the Russian Defense Ministry of seeking to destroy Wagner with an order requiring his fighters to sign up with the military by July 1. Putin backed the edict days before the revolt began.
The president spoke to the military after meeting late Monday with security chiefs including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, his close ally who’s repeatedly faced abuse from Prigozhin over the handling of the war in Ukraine.
Russia’s Federal Security Service announced earlier Tuesday that it had closed a criminal investigation into Wagner over the armed uprising that spiraled into the biggest threat to Putin’s 24-year-rule. That was also part of the agreement that Putin had approved.
The Defense Ministry in Moscow said preparations have begun to transfer heavy weaponry from the mercenaries to units of the Russian army.
The rapid chain of events has left the US, Europe and China puzzling over the political fallout from a rebellion that shattered Putin’s invincible image as Russia’s leader. The crisis highlighted bitter divisions within Russia over the faltering war in Ukraine that’s the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II, as a Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to try to push Putin’s forces out of occupied territories.
“It was very painful to see the events that happened in southern Russia,” Lukashenko said at a televised meeting with military officers in the capital, Minsk. He promised assistance to Wagner mercenaries coming to Belarus at their own expense, and offered them an abandoned military base but said he wouldn’t allow them to have recruitment offices.
Prigozhin said Monday that Lukashenko had offered to allow Wagner to operate in his country.
The Kremlin and state media continued to tout support for Putin from world leaders. Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke by phone, while Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in an interview with Germany’s Bild that the Russian leader won’t be weakened by the mutiny.
Wagner’s heavily-armed troops first took control of Russia’s southern city of Rostov-on-Don, and then rapidly moved toward Moscow virtually unopposed, reaching 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the capital before turning back.
In an 11-minute audio message on Telegram Monday, Prigozhin said the lightening progress of his fighters highlighted “serious problems with security on the whole territory of the country.”
The mercenary chief also pointedly noted the expressions of public support he said his fighters enjoyed as they marched through Russia’s heartland.
Lukashenko said there were “no heroes” in the story of the mutiny and the effort to resolve the crisis. “We let the situation get out of hand,” he said.