| 14 April 2024, Sunday |

Belarus leader says he talked Prigozhin back from brink

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday that he had convinced Yevgeny Prigozhin in an emotional, expletive-laden phone call to end a mutiny by his Wagner militia that has jolted Russia.

Under a deal brokered by Lukashenko, an old friend, Prigozhin abandoned what a “march for justice” by thousands of his men on Moscow in exchange for safe passage to exile in Belarus.

His men – who have spearheaded much of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine – were also pardoned and have been given the choice of joining Prigozhin in Belarus, being integrated into Russia’s security forces, or simply going home.

Lukashenko, recounting his role in Saturday’s drama to Belarusian officers and officials, hailed Prigozhin as a “heroic guy” who had been shaken by the deaths of many of his men in Ukraine.

“He was pressured and influenced by those who led the assault squads (in Ukraine) and saw these deaths,” Lukashenko said, adding that Prigozhin had arrived in the southern Russian city of Rostov from Ukraine in a “semi-mad state”.

With Prigozhin’s men having seized Rostov and others heading for Moscow, Lukashenko said he tried for hours by phone to reason with the Wagner chief, who has said he was furious at corruption and incompetence in the military leadership and wanted to avenge an alleged army attack on his men.

Lukashenko said their calls contained “10 times” as many obscenities as normal language.

“‘But we want justice! They want to strangle us! We’re going to Moscow!'” he quoted Prigozhin as saying.

“I say: ‘Halfway you’ll just be crushed like a bug’,” Lukashenko replied.

Lukashenko also said that, earlier on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin had sought his help, complaining that Prigozhin was not taking any calls. Lukashenko said he had advised Putin against “rushing” to crush the mutineers.

Prigozhin said on Monday he had never planned to topple Putin’s government but wanted Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, sacked.

“Nobody will give you either Shoigu or Gerasimov,” Lukashenko said he told Prigozhin, finally convincing him that Moscow would be defended and to continue the mutiny would engulf Russia in turmoil and grief.

  • Asharq Al-Awsat