Prigozhin Exiles in Belarus from St. Petersburg
Yevgeniy Prigozhin has landed in Belarus on Tuesday, according to President Aleksandr Lukashenko, the Belarusian dictator who mediated between the leader of the Wagner Group and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Yes, he is in Belarus. As I promised him – if you choose to switch sides with us for a while, we will assist you,” Lukashenko said addressing his generals in Minsk.
Prigozhin’s whereabouts were unknown since he on Saturday abruptly aborted his mutiny that threatened to turn into a civil war and has seriously challenged Putin’s reign.
Flight tracker FlightRadar24 shows that an aircraft with the tail number RA-02795, believed to belong to Prigozhin, flew to Minsk on Tuesday morning from St. Petersburg - Prigozhin’s and Putin’s birthplace.
Less than two days after Prigozhin's mercenary group, Wagner, launched an "armed mutiny" on Friday, OCCRP and its Russian member center, iStories, discovered that his jet flew to St Petersburg.
Prigozhin vowed late Friday to turn against Moscow, saying that the Russian military had attacked his soldiers and that, in general, the actions of the Russian military leadership during the war in Ukraine were wrong.
Wagner's forces marched from Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia, where they reportedly gained control of military installations, to Voronezh, around 200 kilometers from Moscow, which prompted strong anti-terrorist measures in the Russian capital.
To avert violence, Prigozhin abruptly ordered his men to return to their bases by the end of the day on Saturday as they neared the Russian capital.
"Recognizing the possibility of Russian blood being spilt on one side, we are turning our columns around and returning to field camps as planned," Prigozhin said in his video address.
It appears that the armed uprising, seen as the most serious domestic crisis in Putin's 22-year tenure, was resolved through some form of a deal.
Despite Moscow calling for Prigozhin's arrest and the Federal Security Service (FSB) opening a criminal case against him, charging him with armed mutiny against the state, for which he faced up to 20 years in prison, his plane was seen flying to his hometown of St. Petersburg.
On June 25, the private jet with the tail number RA-02795 then took off from St. Petersburg and turned off the transponder—a device that broadcasts a signal about the position of the aircraft—over the Volgograd region, which borders the Rostov region, where Prigozhin's headquarters are located.
Around six in the evening of the same day, the plane reportedly reappeared on radar over the Tambov region—a forest steppe bordering several other regions, including Voronezh—and returned to St. Petersburg by seven in the evening.
According to FlightRadar24, RA-02795 followed the itinerary of Prigozhin's spring trip in Russia, as noted by iStories and OCCRP.
Meanwhile, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko confirmed that he brokered an agreement with Prigozhin, with Putin's consent, to prevent possible bloodshed in Russia.
Following Lukashenko's statement on Saturday, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the boss of Wagner will be permitted to exile to Belarus, as previously agreed with Lukashenko.
Addressing the nation for the second time in three days on Monday evening, Russian President Putin emphasized that "efforts were taken from the start of the events to avert widespread bloodshed," in accordance with his instructions.
Putin thanked his Russian counterpart Lukashenko for his contribution in mediating the "peaceful resolution of the situation" and promised the Wagner mercenaries a deal identical to that extended to their leader—to go to Belarus.
Those who choose to remain in the country were offered the option of "continuing to serve Russia by signing a contract with the Ministry of Defense or other law enforcement agencies, or returning to their families and friends.”
“The promise I made will be fulfilled. I repeat, the choice is yours, but I am confident it will be made by Russian soldiers who have recognized their fatal error,” said Putin, emphasizing that he was aware that the vast majority of the Wagner group’s fighters and commanders are also “Russian patriots devoted to their people and state.”