Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday said he warned Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin twice to keep an eye out for threats to his life.
Speaking to Belta, Belarus-owned news agency, Lukashenko said that the first time he warned was soon after the Wagner’s forces foiled a bid to march on Moscow to mutiny against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The first time was when I phoned him and negotiations (were taking) place while they were marching on Moscow,” Lukashenko said.
Lukashenko told Belta that he told Putin’s former caterer: “Yevgeny, do you understand that you will doom your people and will perish yourself?”
Prigozhin reportedly said: “I will die then, damn it!”
Lukashenko said the second time he warned Prigozhin during a meeting between him, Prigozhin and Dmitriy Utkin, a long-term lieutenant of Prigozhin.
Russian state media outlets this week showed footage of a private plane crashing into a field northwest of Moscow while en route to St. Petersburg. The plane was purportedly carrying Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose private army has been instrumental in the ongoing 2022 Russo-Ukrainian war.
Lukashenko also said that told Prigozhin that he would talk with Putin and ensure the private mercenary group chief’s full security in Belarus. He, however, accepted that Prigozhin never asked him to pay attention to his security.
Both Utkin and Prigozhin were on the plane on Wednesday and the Kremlin said examinations including genetic testing were underway to determine if they were killed.
Russian authorities have not yet confirmed whether Prigozhin died in the plane crash. American and western intelligence officials believe the crash was deliberate but said it cannot be determined what downed the plane.
Lukashenko, the Belarus strongman who is the closest to Putin as the western nations continue to isolate him, said he cannot imagine his Russian counterpart was behind Prigozhin’s death.
“I can’t say who did it. I won’t even become a lawyer for my older brother. But I know Putin – he is a prudent, very calm and slow-paced person when making decisions on other less complex issues,” Lukashenko told Belta.
“I cannot imagine that Putin did it, that he is to blame. It was too rough, unprofessional work, for that matter,” he further added.
(with inputs from CNN)