The whereabouts of mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin remained a mystery Tuesday after Russian President Vladimir Putin once again blasted organizers of a weekend rebellion as traitors who played into the hands of Ukraine’s government and its allies.
The Kremlin has said Prigozhin would be exiled to neighboring Belarus, but neither he nor the Belarusian authorities have confirmed that. An independent Belarusian military monitoring project Belaruski Hajun said a business jet that Prigozhin reportedly uses landed near Minsk on Tuesday morning.
The media team for Prigozhin, the 62-year-old head of the Wagner private military contractor, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prigozhin’s short-lived insurrection over the weekend — the biggest challenge to Putin’s rule in more than two decades in power — has rattled Russia’s leadership.
Putin on Monday night sought to project stability and control in a short, nationally televised address, in which he criticized the uprising’s “organizers,” without naming Prigozhin. He also praised Russian unity in the face of the crisis, as well as rank-and-file Wagner fighters for not letting the situation descend into “major bloodshed.”
Earlier in the day, Prigozhin defended his actions in a defiant audio statement. He again taunted the Russian military but said he hadn’t been seeking to stage a coup against Putin.
In another show of stability and control, the Kremlin on Monday night showed Putin meeting with top security, law enforcement and military officials, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, whom Prigozhin had sought to remove.
Putin thanked his team for their work over the weekend, implying support for the embattled Shoigu. Earlier, the authorities released a video of Shoigu reviewing troops in Ukraine.
Prigozhin’s fate is uncertain. The Kremlin has promised to drop a criminal probe against him on the charges of mounting a rebellion, but Russian media reports Monday said the case hasn’t been closed.
It also wasn’t clear whether he would be able to keep his mercenary force. In his speech, Putin offered Prigozhin’s fighters to either come under Russia’s Defense Ministry’s command, leave service or go to Belarus.
Prigozhin said Monday, without elaborating, that the Belarusian leadership proposed solutions that would allow Wagner to operate “in a legal jurisdiction,” but it was unclear what that meant.
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