The founder of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has kept people guessing as to his whereabouts since he led a march on Moscow on Saturday. He called off the uprising and agreed to go into exile. Now, he has ended days of speculation by showing up in Belarus.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko confirmed the arrival on Tuesday. He said he managed to talk Prigozhin out of having Wagner fighters try to enter Moscow. He warned Russian forces would have "squashed" them "like a bug."
Lukashenko said, "The most dangerous thing, as I understand it, was not the situation itself, but how it could develop and its consequences."
Lukashenko added that he has offered Wagner troops the use of an abandoned base in his country. He also told his defense minister that Belarusian troops can learn from the mercenaries' experience in combat. However, he said Wagner fighters will not guard Russian nuclear weapons that have been deployed in Belarus.
President Vladimir Putin noted to his members of his security team on Tuesday that Russia provided all the funding for Wagner Group. He said that, over the last year, Prigozhin has earned about 1 billion dollars.
Authorities have dropped criminal charges of "armed mutiny" against Prigozhin and his men. However, they are still looking into where the money went.
Putin said, "I hope that in the course of these works, no one stole anything, or, let's say, stole a bit less. But of course, we will deal with all of this."
Leaders in some countries neighboring Belarus are concerned about having the mercenaries nearby. Polish President Andrzej Duda sees the fighters as "de facto Russian forces" and says their relocation sends "negative signals."
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has reportedly stressed that the Wagner mercenary group will have no role in guarding Russian tactical nuclear weapons that are being transferred to his country.
A state-run news agency in Belarus cited Lukashenko as saying on Tuesday that a substantial amount of Russian nuclear weaponry has been moved into the country.
Lukashenko reportedly said Poland and others believe that Wagner will guard the nuclear weapons if and when the private military group becomes active in Belarus.
The report said Lukashenko denied such views, saying, "It is our job. And I am personally responsible for the security of the weapons."
Russian President Vladimir Putin had said on June 16 that the first batch of tactical nuclear weapons has been transported to Belarus. Putin plans to deploy the weapons within the territory of Moscow's ally, apparently to keep the US and Europe in check.