Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said the long-standing tensions between the Russian army and Wagner mercenary group, which staged a 24-hour mutiny at the weekend, had been mismanaged.
In his first public remarks since he brokered a deal between the Kremlin and Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, which halted the group’s advance on Moscow, Mr Lukashenko said he ordered the Belarusian army to be at full combat readiness.
He told reporters on Tuesday: “Do not make a hero out of me, neither of me nor of Putin nor of Prigozhin, because we let the situation slip from our hands, and then we thought that it would resolve itself, but it did not.
“And two people who were fighting at the front collided. There are no heroes in this case.”
While Prigozhin’s precise whereabouts remain unclear, US intelligence official, senate Intelligence Chair Mark Warner, told Sky’s US partner NBC News that he is reportedly in “one of the only hotels in Minsk that does not have any windows”.
The 62-year-old has not been seen in public since Saturday, when he was driven out of the Russian city of Rostov after he ordered his men to stand down.
The brief rebellion saw Wagner fighters advance on Moscow, demanding the sacking of Russia’s military leadership accusing them of botching the war in Ukraine.
While the exact terms of the Belarus-brokered deal are unclear, Prigozhin is believed to have moved to Belarus and the Kremlin has said it would drop criminal charges against the Wagner boss and his fighters.
Flight tracking data showed that a Russian-registered business jet linked to Prigozhin flew to Belarus from Russia early on Tuesday, according to Fightradar24. The Embraer Legacy 600 jet is linked to Prigozhin in US sanctions documents.
On Monday, the former Putin ally insisted his mutiny was not an attempt to “overthrow the government” and that he decided to halt the advance on Moscow to avoid bloodshed.
In an 11-minute audio message he said he started the march “because of an injustice” and acted to “prevent the destruction” of the Wagner Group.
The mercenary group leader has been a vocal critic of the Kremlin’s military’s elite – mainly the Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu and the chief of general staff, Valery Gerasimov – who he has accused of failing to provide his fighters with enough ammunition in the battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
Mr Putin said in address on Monday night that the mutiny leaders had betrayed their motherland, although he did not mention Prigozhin by name.
He said Wagner fighters would be permitted to establish themselves in Belarus, and Prigozhin said Mr Lukashenko had agreed to let the group operate there.