This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Russian mercenary group Wagner — who led a short-lived mutiny last month — is in Russia and not in Belarus, the leader of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, claimed.
Speaking to reporters in Minsk on July 6, Lukashenka also said that Wagner fighters have remained at the camps where they had lived before the rebellion on June 24.
“As for Prigozhin, he is in St. Petersburg. He is not on the territory of Belarus,” Lukashenka said, without providing any evidence to support his claim.
The whereabouts of Prigozhin have remained unknown since his fighters briefly captured a southern Russian city and marched toward Moscow last month, representing the biggest threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin in his more than two decades in power.
On June 27, Lukashenka said that Prigozhin was in Belarus.
Lukashenka, a Kremlin ally, helped broker a deal for Prigozhin to end the standoff in exchange for amnesty and security guarantees for himself and his troops. Under the deal, Prigozhin and his fighters were to be allowed to move to Belarus.
Lukashenka didn’t specify the location of the camps where the Wagner mercenaries are allegedly based, but they fought alongside Russian forces in eastern Ukraine before the mutiny.
Asked if Prigozhin and his mercenaries were relocating to Belarus, Lukashenka said that would depend on decisions by the Wagner chief and the Russian government.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was not tracking Prigozhin’s movements.
Peskov told reporters on July 6 that no date had yet been set for a meeting between Putin and Lukashenka, adding that he could not yet confirm details of what would be on the agenda.
NATO is closely monitoring the movements of Wagner troops and Prigozhin, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on July 6.
“We have seen some preparations for hosting large groups of Wagner soldiers in Belarus,” Stoltenberg said, speaking in Brussels. “So far, we haven’t seen so many of them going to Belarus.”
NATO also observed that Prigozhin was “moving a bit around,” Stoltenberg said, without providing further details.
Lukashenka later on July 6 commented about nuclear warheads in Belarus.
“This is such a topic that it is inappropriate for any politician to think about,” BelTA quoted him as saying. But he went on to say that a “certain number of nuclear warheads” were moved to Belarus and that they are “under reliable protection.”
He added that Russian tactical nuclear weapons had been deployed on the territory of Belarus as a weapon of deterrence, not of attack, and warned that if another country acts “aggressively,” the response “will be immediate.”
Lukashenka also said that the details of the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons were prepared a month ago and said that by the end of the year all planned deliveries to Belarus will have been completed.
Since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia has used Belarus — with Lukashenka’s approval — as a staging area for the unprovoked attack.
Recent satellite images of three areas in Belarus used to train mobilized Russian soldiers indicate the camps have been dismantled. The images were provided by the company Planet Labs and published by RFE/RL’s Belarus Service on July 5.
One image that the company said was taken on July 4 shows that rows of tents had been almost completely dismantled. The camp had existed in the location since the middle of October and was dismantled no earlier than June 30, the images indicate. The images taken of other camps indicate they were in the process of being dismantled.
At almost the same time, a tent camp in the village of Tsel in the Asipovichy district began to appear. There has been speculation that the activity may be connected with the arrival of Wagner mercenaries in Belarus.