Wagner Group mercenary cries at shrine for Yevgeny Prigozhin
Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin told Alexander Lukashenko he wanted “to die a hero”, the Belarusian President has claimed.
Mr Lukashenko, often addressed in Western media as Europe’s last dictator, claimed on Friday to have twice told Mr Prigozhin to watch out for his life, only to see his concerns dismissed both times.
Speaking with Belarusian state-controlled news agency BelTA, the president said to have issued his first warning in the midst of the June 23 mutiny staged by Mr Prigozhin’s paramilitary group against the Russian military leadership.
The Belarusian leader said to have called the Wagner leader as he was trying to broker a deal between Vladimir Putin and Mr Prigozhin to stop the mercenaries’ march towards Moscow and prevent a coup.
Mr Lukashenko said: “I told him: ‘Zhenya [short for Yevgeny], do you realise that your people will be killed and you will be killed?’
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“He was enraged; he had come straight from the front: ‘To hell with it, let me be killed!’ So I told him: ‘Zhenya, let me send you a piece of rope and a bar of soap.'”
Mr Prigozhin, the Belarusian president claimed, replied: “No, no, no, I don’t want it to happen this way. I want to die a hero’.”
Mr Lukashenko, an old acquaintance of the Wagner leader and one of Putin’s closest allies, said to have issued another warning during a private meeting he held with the Wagner leader and the paramilitary group’s founder, Dmitry Utkin.
Mr Lukashenko recalled having told both of them during the meeting, without specifying when it took place: “Watch out, guys.”
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Mr Utkin, a former GRU agent, was named alongside Mr Prigozhin on the passenger list of the private jet that crashed down on Wednesday evening in the Tver region, north of Moscow.
The circumstances of the incident are being investigated by Russia’s civil aviation agency, and while the identity of the 10 dead passengers hasn’t yet been confirmed, the British Ministry of Defence believes it is likely Mr Prigozhin has died.
In his recent interview, Mr Lukashenko claimed to have never offered protection to the Wagner chief, saying: “I should not be the one in charge of Prigozhin’s security. That’s the first thing. Second, this was never even discussed.”
As part of the deal Mr Lukashenko brokered to end the late June mutiny, Mr Prigozhin agreed to go into exile in Belarus – although he is known to have returned to Russia multiple times following the attempted coup.
Moreover, thousands of Wagner troops have since relocated to the country, officially to train the local army. Wagner, the president said, will remain in Belarus “as long as we need this unit”.
In mid-August, it had been claimed Mr Lukashenko was booting out Wagner troops from Belarus after refusing to finance them.
Mr Lukashenko also dismissed allegations the Kremlin may be involved in the plane crash, saying it was too much of a “hack job” for Putin to be behind it.
He said: “I know Putin. He is a very measured, very calm – even slow – person, even when he makes decisions regarding less complicated issues. So I can’t imagine Putin did it or that Putin is to blame. It’s too much of a hack job, too unprofessional.”
A few hours prior, the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov had branded as “a complete lie” speculation Putin ordered the death of the Wagner leader.
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