Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has confirmed that the leader of the Wagner paramilitary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has arrived in Belarus, days after the group’s brief armed mutiny in Russia over the weekend.
Speaking on Tuesday, Lukashenko stressed that Prigozhin was "indeed in Belarus today," adding that he had offered the mercenary group an abandoned military site where they could "put their tents while thinking what to do next."
Several days after Prigozhin's 36-hour armed rebellion, Lukashenko said it was in fact an "interpersonal conflict" between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Prigozhin which “escalated into this fight."
Accusing Russian forces of striking and killing “a huge amount” of his fighters, Prigozhin, whose forces have been fighting alongside those of Russia in Ukraine, said over the weekend that his forces crossed the border from Ukraine into Russia on June 23, entering the city of Rostov-on-Don.
The group's leader also threatened that his men would destroy anyone who stood in their way, claiming that his forces had shot down a Russian military helicopter that “opened fire on a civilian convoy.”
However, the mutiny came to an end after Prigozhin agreed, via an agreement brokered by Lukashenko, to turn his troops back from their march to the Russian capital in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Moscow dropped charges against Prigozhin and said he was free to go to Belarus.
While hailing his own role in halting the recent mutiny, Lukashenko said: "We need to be more attentive to such military collectives if we have spawned them. And we need to respond to their requests in time."
Russian authorities are preparing to transfer the Wagner group's heavy weapons into the regular military and the fighters have been told that they can either sign regular army contracts, go home or head to Belarus.
Addressing some 2,500 members of the military, the security forces, and the National Guard inside the Kremlin's Cathedral Square on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said they "de facto stopped the civil war" over the weekend.
"You saved our homeland from turmoil, and actually stopped civil war," Putin told the troops. "You have defended the constitutional order, the lives, security and freedom of our citizens. You have saved our Motherland from upheaval."
Prigozhin released an 11-minute recording Monday, explaining that the armed march he led in Moscow over the weekend was “to demonstrate our protest, not to topple the government.”
Wagner troops in Belarus can spell trouble: NATO
In a related development on Tuesday, Eastern European NATO countries warned that Wagner forces in Belarus were a cause for concern, stressing that such mercenary troops would create greater regional instability.
This is while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stressed that the US-led military alliance is ready to defend itself against any threat whatsoever, referring to the increased military buildup in NATO's eastern flank in recent years.
"We have sent a clear message to Moscow and Minsk that NATO is there to protect every ally, every inch of NATO territory," he said.
"We have already increased our military presence in the eastern part of the alliance and we will make further decisions to further strengthen our collective defense with more high-readiness forces and more capabilities at the upcoming summit," Stoltenberg added.