Russian mercenary leader’s whereabouts and fate remain a mystery after revolt

The fate of mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin remained a mystery on Tuesday after Russian President Vladimir Putin once again branded the organizers of a weekend rebellion as traitors who played into the hands of the Ukrainian government and its allies.

The Kremlin said Prigozhin would be exiled to neighboring Belarus, but neither he nor Belarusian authorities confirmed this. An independent Belarusian military monitoring project, Belaruski Hajun, said a business jet that Prigozhin allegedly used landed near Minsk on Tuesday morning.

The media team for Prigozhin, the 62-year-old head of private military contractor Wagner, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prigozhin’s short-lived uprising over the weekend – Putin’s biggest challenge to power in more than two decades in power – rattled Russia’s leadership.

Putin on Monday evening sought to project stability and control in a brief nationally televised speech, in which he criticized the “organizers” of the uprising, without naming Prigozhin. He also praised Russian unity in the face of the crisis, as well as Wagner’s rank and file fighters for not letting the situation descend into “major bloodshed”.

Earlier today, Prigozhin defended his actions in a defiant audio statement. He again provoked the Russian military, but said he had not sought to stage a coup against Putin.

In another show of stability and control, the Kremlin showed Putin on Monday evening at a meeting with senior security, law enforcement and military officials, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, that Prigozhin had sought to impeach.

Putin thanked his team for their work over the weekend, involving support for the beleaguered Shoigu. Earlier, authorities released a video of Shoigu reviewing troops in Ukraine.

Prigozhin’s fate is uncertain. The Kremlin has promised to drop a criminal investigation against him for staging a rebellion, but Russian media reported on Monday that the case is not closed.

It was also unclear whether he would be able to maintain his mercenary strength. In his speech, Putin offered the Prigozhin fighters to come under the command of the Russian Defense Ministry, leave the service or go to Belarus.

Prigozhin said Monday, without giving further details, that Belarusian leaders had offered solutions that would allow Wagner to operate “within legal jurisdiction”, but it was unclear what that meant.


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