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Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is back in Russia, says 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
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AFP via Getty Images
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.

MOSCOW — The head of the Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin is back in Russia, nearly two weeks after Wagner's failed uprising against the country's military leadership.

That's according to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who negotiated an end to last month's insurrection with the Kremlin by offering to host Prigozhin and his Wagner mercenaries in Belarus.

Speaking to reporters in Belarusian capital Minsk on Thursday, Lukashenko said Prigozhin was no longer under his protection.

"As far as Prigozhin is concerned, he is in St. Petersburg," said Lukashenko. "He is not in Belarus."

Lukashenko also said that Wagner mercenaries had yet to relocate to Belarus and suggested that decision was still pending in Moscow.

Neither claim could be independently confirmed.

The announcement is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga over Prigozhin's whereabouts, and more widely cast into question the terms of the Wagner amnesty deal with Russia to end the rebellion.

Under the terms of that agreement, Prigozhin promised to withdraw his troops, and the Kremlin said the Wagner leader won't face charges for the mutiny, though Russian President Vladimir Putin branded him a "traitor." Russian officials saidPrigozhin would be exiled to neighboring Belarus.

Yet on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov appeared to dismiss the ironclad nature of the agreement.

"No, we don't track his movements," Peskov said. "We have neither the means, nor the desire to do so."

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.
/ AP
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AP
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.

Nearly two weeks ago, the Wagner mercenary force briefly seized control of the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and marched to the outskirts of Moscow nearly unopposed before withdrawing.

In the wake of the failed rebellion, Putin has praised his security forces for preventing the country from sliding into civil war.

While the amnesty deal had said that Prigozhin would be in Belarus, his actual whereabouts have been in question. Last week, a plane believed to belong to Prigozhin arrived in Minsk and then was seen flying back to Russia.

Prigozhin has not been seen in public since the end of the uprising.

Yet a Telegram channel aligned with the Wagner Group posted an audio message claiming to be from Prigozhin earlier this week.

In it, a man whose voice resembled Prigozhin's suggested that he and his mercenaries still had a role to play in the Kremlin's war in Ukraine.

"In the near future," said the voice, "I am sure you will see our next victories at the front."

Charles Maynes reported from Moscow; Laurel Wamsley is based in Washington.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
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