The Belarusian leader confirms that Wagner forces are in Belarus as he hails his own role in halting the recent mutiny.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has confirmed that the head of the Wagner paramilitary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has arrived in the country.
He said he offered the mercenary group an abandoned military site where they could “put their tents while thinking what to do next”.
Lukashenko is said to have brokered a deal which narrowly prevented Wagner mercenaries from marching on Moscow after the private army mutinied against Russia’s military leaders.
Lukashenko said there would be no Wagner recruitment points in Belarus but the nation’s citizens may join the group and issued an ominous warning that those who make such a decision should realise the “danger of death” for the job.
Commenting on reasons that led to the mutiny, the Belarusian leader said it was an “interpersonal conflict” between Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Prigozhin “escalated into this fight”.
“I know the work of Shoigu. Undeservedly he is sometimes criticised,” he said.
Lukashenko asked that he not be called “a mediator”, arguing he was “a participant” because it was a common problem for Russia and Belarus.
He also said lessons have to be learned from the situation with the mutiny.
“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.”
Putin’s supporters have insisted that his rule was not weakened by the revolt.
Asked whether Putin’s power was diminished by the sight of Wagner’s rebel mercenaries seizing a military headquarters, advancing on Moscow and shooting down military aircraft along the way, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused political commentators of exaggerating, adding that: “We don’t agree.”
Putin himself attempted to portray the dramatic events at the weekend as a victory for the Russian army.
“You de facto stopped civil war,” Putin told troops from the defence ministry, National Guard, FSB security service and interior ministry gathered in a Kremlin courtyard to hold a minute’s silence for airmen slain by Wagner.