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Putin Planned to ‘Wipe Out’ Wagner Mutineers: Lukashenko

Putin Planned to ‘Wipe Out’ Wagner Mutineers: Lukashenko

Russian President Vladimir Putin planned to kill mutinous Wagner fighters marching on Moscow before being talked down, according to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

It is unclear how Putin planned to carry out his plan, but Lukashenko said during a June 27 meeting with military officials that the decision had been made to kill all the Wagner fighters who had mutinied, according to Belarusian state media.

“I also understood a brutal decision had been made, and it was the undertone of Putin’s address, to ‘wipe out’ the mutineers,” Lukashenko said, using a slang phrase popular among Russian criminal groups to refer to killing someone.

Lukashenko added that he pressed Putin not to kill Wagner leader Yevegny Prigozhin, encouraging him to engage in dialogue instead. Putin responded, however, that Prigozhin was refusing to take his calls.

“[Putin] told me: ‘Listen, Sasha, it’s useless. He doesn’t even pick up the phone, he doesn’t want to talk to anyone.’”

Belarus to Assume Control of Wagner

Putin at first vowed to crush the Wagner mutiny last week, comparing Wagner’s rebellion to the 1917 revolution that destroyed the Russian Empire and brought the Bolshevik communists to power. He used the same phrase in 1999, when he vowed to wipe out Chechen militants that had infiltrated Russian-controlled Dagestan.

Though Putin accused Prigozhin and his Wagner supporters of treason, hours later, he agreed to a deal brokered by Lukashenko to let the mutinous fighters go into exile in Belarus or else join the Russian military.

Prigozhin flew to Belarus from Russia on June 27.

Lukashenko, who is both an old acquaintance of Prigozhin and a close ally of Putin, said that he had advised the Russian president to think “beyond our own noses,” and that Prigozhin’s assassination could lead to a widespread rebellion by Wagner, which maintains around 25,000 fighters.

He added that his own army could also benefit from the experience of Wagner troops who, according to the deal struck with the Kremlin, are now free to move to Belarus.

“This is the most trained unit in the army,” Lukashenko said of the incoming Wagner fighters, according to Belarusian state media. “Who will argue with this? My military also understands this, and we don’t have such people in Belarus.

“People fail to understand that we are approaching this in a pragmatic way … [Wagner has] been through it. They’ll tell us about the weaponry, what worked well [and what] worked badly.”

Fighters of Wagner private mercenary group pull out of the headquarters of the Southern Military District to return to base, in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on June 24, 2023. (Reuters)

Wagner Rebelled Against ‘Senile’ Russian Defense Leaders

Prigozhin, an ex-convict and restaurateur, founded Wagner in 2014 after serving Putin as a caterer for the Kremlin. The company’s troops have since fought throughout numerous theaters, including in the Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, Sudan, and Syria, in addition to Ukraine.

The group is designated by several nations as a terrorist group and has been widely condemned for its many human rights violations, including the frequent use of sledgehammers as a method of torture and execution.

Wagner has nevertheless gained a large cult following in Russia for its nationalist rhetoric and refusal to cede ground in Ukraine, even as the Russian military surrendered whole cities at a time.

Prigozhin halted what he referred to as his “march of justice” on Moscow after Lukashenko’s intervention. Wagner troops in Russia have since been ordered to surrender their heavy weapons, including tanks, aircraft, air defense systems, and howitzers.

The apparent mutiny was the boiling-over point of a long-running and highly-publicized feud between Wagner’s Prigozhin and Russian military brass.

In a series of viral speeches on Telegram, Prigozhin has alleged for months that the Russian military’s incompetence resulted in mass ammo shortages and an overwhelming number of untrained conscripts being sent to the front lines in Ukraine.

The enmity between Wagner and Russia’s military leadership exploded last week, when Prigozhin claimed that Russian forces had conducted airstrikes against Wagner’s rear bases, killing those fighting for Russia. The Russian defense ministry denies the allegations.

Following that incident, Prigozhin vowed to purge the “evil” from Russia’s military leadership, seized the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don without resistance, and announced his march on Moscow.

Prigozhin’s demands included the removal of Russia’s Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, according to a transcript of a conversation between Prigozhin and military leadership published on Telegram by Wagner and translated by Meduza.

“We’ll remain here until we have [Gerasimov and Shoigu]; we’ll blockade the city of Rostov and go to Moscow,” Prigozhin said.

Prigozhin added that he believed it was necessary to remove “senile clowns” from the Russian bureaucracy to “end the disgrace” of Russia’s losses in Ukraine.

“We’re saving Russia,” Prigozhin said.

It is unclear how Lukashenko came to mediate the crisis between Prigozhin and Putin, but he claimed that such was necessary to prevent Belarus from falling into its own civil war as a result of Russian collapse.

“If Russia collapses, we will remain under the rubble; we will all perish,” Lukashenko said.

Lukashenko has worked to tie his nation’s fate to that of Russia in recent years. Belarus served as a critical staging point for Russian troops invading Ukraine last year, and this month, the nation began to house tactical nuclear weapons for Russia.

Lukashenko boasted that the weapons were three times more powerful than the atomic bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945. He also claimed that there is currently no need to deploy strategic nuclear weapons in Belarus.

It is the first time Russia has deployed the shorter-range, less powerful nuclear weapons outside its territory since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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