Belarusian president says he warned Wagner boss Prigozhin twice to watch out | CNN


Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said he warned Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin twice to watch out for threats to his life.

“The first time was when I phoned him and negotiations (were taking) place while they were marching on Moscow,” Lukashenko told reporters in comments carried by Belarusian state news agency Belta on Friday.

“I told him: ‘Yevgeny, do you understand that you will doom your people and will perish yourself?’ He had just come back from the front. On an impulse he said: ‘I will die then, damn it!”

Lukashenko said the second time was when Prigozhin and Dmitriy Utkin, a long-term lieutenant of Prigozhin’s, had come to see him and he “warned them in no uncertain terms to watch it.” Lukashenko did not say when the meeting took place.

The Belarusian president said he suggested to Prigozhin that he could talk with Putin and “guarantee full security” in Belarus if he was concerned for his security, Belta reported.

“I said: ‘If you are afraid of something, I will talk to President (Vladimir) Putin and we will extract you to Belarus. We guarantee full security to you in Belarus.’ And credit where credit is due, Yevgeny Prigozhin has never asked me to separately pay attention to security matters,” Lukashenko said, according to the agency.

Footage published by Russian state media outlets this week appeared to show the moments before a private plane, purportedly carrying Prigozhin, crashed in a field northwest of Moscow while en route to St. Petersburg.

The crash comes two months after Prigozhin launched a short-lived mutiny against Russia’s military leadership, posing an unprecedented challenge to Putin’s authority.

On Friday, the Kremlin said that examinations including genetic testing were underway to determine whether Prigozhin was killed in Wednesday’s plane crash. Utkin was also believed to be on board the plane at the time, according to a list of passengers released by the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency.

Russian authorities have yet to officially confirm Prigozhin’s death but have acknowledged the plane crash in public comments.

The Pentagon has said it believes that Prigozhin was “likely” killed in the crash. US and Western intelligence officials that CNN spoke to believe the crash was deliberate but said it was still too early to determine what brought the plane down.

Plenty of speculation remains and the future of the group is anyone’s guess.

Lukashenko previously said that he “could not imagine” that Putin was behind the apparent death of Prigozhin.

“I can’t say who did it. I won’t even become a lawyer for my older brother. But I know Putin – he is a prudent, very calm and slow-paced person when making decisions on other less complex issues. Therefore, I cannot imagine that Putin did it, that he is to blame,” Lukashenko told journalists. “It was too rough, unprofessional work, for that matter,” he added.

According to Belta, Lukashenko said Prigozhin had never asked him for security guarantees following the attempted mutiny two months ago.

“I don’t have to ensure Prigozhin’s safety. This is first of all. Secondly, the conversation [between Prigozhin and Lukashenko] never centered on this,” he said.

He also said Wagner will “live in Belarus,” adding that “within a few days everyone will be here,” referring to Wagner fighters and the deal he struck to host the group after the failed uprising.

“Up to 10 thousand people,” he said. “As long as we need this unit, they will live and work with us.”

Referencing satellite imagery that purported to show camp sites for Wagner fighters being dismantled recently, Lukashenko said: “Why are we removing extra tents, we don’t need so many of them. The core base remains here, someone went on vacation, someone decided to live on the sidelines, but all telephones, addresses, passwords, and appearances are known.”

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