Belarus’ Lukashenko says he convinced Putin not to eliminate Prigozhin

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko talks during the 2nd Eurasian Economic Forum, on May 24, 2023 in Moscow, Russia.Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty ImagesBelarusian President Alexander Lukashenko signaled he deterred his Russian counterpart and long-time ally Vladimir Putin from eliminating failed insurrectionist and Russian paramilitary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin after his attempted coup over the weekend.”I also realized that a tough decision was taken (Putin hinted at it in his address) — to eliminate those involved. I suggested that Putin should not rush to do it. I suggested that I talk to Prigozhin, his commanders,” Lukashenko said on Tuesday, in unexpectedly frank and exhaustive comments reported by Belarusian state agency Belta.Lukashenko emerged as the unlikely mediator of an eleventh-hour amnesty deal that agreed the withdrawal of Prigozhin’s Russian militia Wagner troops, who had turned weapons to march on Moscow. For his part, Putin renounced insurgency charges against Prigozhin and allowed him to retreat into exile in Belarus — a historical ally of Russia that alleges it has taken delivery of Russian tactical nuclear weapons on its territory.Against expectations, Lukashenko on Tuesday confirmed that Prigozhin — a “dead man walking,” according to Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group — reached Belarus by private plane.Lukashenko described a “completely euphoric” Prigozhin throughout their negotiations, who “talked using only swear words for about 30 minutes” and made forthright demands to speak with Putin and be handed over Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and army commander Valery Gerasimov — the frequent subjects of his discontent.”No one will give you Shoigu or Gerasimov, especially in this situation,” Lukashenko claims to have told Prigozhin. “You know Putin as much as I do. Secondly, he will not meet with you, he will not even talk on the phone with you in this situation.”The Belarusian leader noted the Wagner brass were “extremely dissatisfied” and were exercising pressure that stoked Prigozhin’s rebellion. “As far as I could understand it, they strongly influenced Prigozhin himself. I had figured it out beforehand. Yes, he acts like a hero, you know, but he was under pressure and influence of those who were in command of assault units and had seen those deaths,” Lukashenko said, alleging he nevertheless warned Prigozhin he would be “brushed like a bug on your way.”Prigozhin’s turbulent relationship with the Kremlin has been fractured by assiduous accusations of incompetence among Moscow’s military echelons. Tensions erupted weeks ago, when the defense ministry mandated contracts for private military companies, which Prigozhin refused to sign.Putin initially classified Prigozhin’s progress against Moscow as treasonous in a televised address, but the Russian Federal Security Service has since closed the criminal case over armed mutiny charges on Tuesday.CNBC could not independently verify Lukashenko’s account of the events. A stalwart supporter of Putin, the Belarusian head of state was reappointed in 2020 following elections that were widely contested as fraudulent. Lukashenko’s own regime stands accused of authoritarian and human rights violations.

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