Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he persuaded Russian President Vladimir Putin not to “wipe out” mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, in response to what the Kremlin cast as a mutiny that pushed Russia towards civil war.
Putin initially vowed to crush the mutiny, comparing it to the wartime turmoil that ushered in the revolution of 1917 and then a civil war, but hours later a deal was clinched to allow Prigozhin and some of his fighters to go to Belarus.
Prigozhin flew to Belarus from Russia on Tuesday.
While describing his Saturday conversation with Putin, Lukashenko used the Russian criminal slang phrase for killing someone, equivalent to the English phrase to “wipe out”.
“I also understood: a brutal decision had been made (and it was the undertone of Putin’s address) to wipe out” the mutineers, Lukashenko told a meeting of his army officials and journalists on Tuesday, according to Belarusian state media.
“I suggested to Putin not to rush. ‘Come on,’ I said, ‘Let’s talk with Prigozhin, with his commanders.’ To which he told me: ‘Listen, Sasha, it’s useless. He doesn’t even pick up the phone, he doesn’t want to talk to anyone.”
Putin used the same Russian verb in 1999 about Chechen militants, vowing to “wipe them out in the shithouse”, remarks that became a widely quoted emblem of his severe persona.
There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin on Lukashenko’s remarks, which give a rare insight into the conversations inside the Kremlin as Russia, according to Putin’s own account, teetered towards turmoil not seen for decades.
Lukashenko, both an old acquaintance of Prigozhin and close ally of Putin, said that he had advised the Russian president to think “beyond our own noses” and that Prigozhin’s elimination could lead to a widespread revolt by his fighters.
The Belarusian leader also said that his own army could benefit from the experience of Wagner troops who, according to a deal struck with the Kremlin, are now free to move to Belarus.
“This is the most trained unit in the army,” BelTA state agency quoted Lukashenko as saying. “Who will argue with this? My military also understand this, and we don’t have such people in Belarus.”
Later Lukashenko told his military that “people fail to understand that we are approaching this in a pragmatic way … They’ve (Wagner) been through it, they’ll tell us about the weaponry – what worked well, which worked badly.”
Prigozhin halted what he called was “march of justice” on Moscow from the southern city of Rostov-on-Don within 200 kilometres of the capital after Lukashenko’s intervention