MOSCOW – A business jet linked to Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin flew to Belarus from Russia on Tuesday (June 27) after a mutiny that has dealt the biggest blow to President Vladimir Putin’s authority since he came to power more than 23 years ago.
Flightradar24 showed the Embraer Legacy 600 business jet appeared in Rostov region at 0232 GMT and began a descent at 0420 GMT near Minsk.
The idenfication codes of the aircraft match those of a jet linked by the United States to Autolex Transport which is linked to Prigozhin by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Under a deal mediated by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko on Saturday to halt a mutiny by Prigozhin’s mercenary fighters, Prigozhin is meant to move to Belarus.
In an address to the nation late on Monday, Putin said the leaders of what he called the “armed mutiny” had betrayed Russia and the Russian people but thanked the army, law enforcement and special services for resisting the mutineers.
The 70-year-old Kremlin chief said he had ordered Russian forces to avoid any bloodshed and thanked those mercenaries in Wagner who stepped back from the brink of “armed rebellion” and bloodshed on Saturday.
Prigozhin’s “March for justice”, which he said was aimed at settling scores with Putin’s military top brass whom he cast as treasonous and corrupt, has raised the prospect of turmoil in Russia while undermining Putin’s reputation as unchallenged leader.
Putin on Saturday vowed to crush the mutiny, comparing it to the war-time turmoil which ushered in the revolutions of 1917 and then civil war, and to punish those responsible.
But just hours later, the mutiny ended when the Kremlin said criminal charges against the mutineers were to be dropped in exchange for their return to camps, with Prigozhin to move to Belarus.
Speaking from the Kremlin on Monday, Putin vowed to stand by his promise to allow Wagner fighters to leave for Belarus, though he did not mention Prigozhin by name.
“You have the opportunity to continue serving Russia by signing a contract with the ministry of defense or other law enforcement agencies, or to return to your family and friends,” Putin said.
“Anyone who wants to can go to Belarus. The promise I made will be fulfilled.”
Putin was shown on state television holding a late-night meeting with top security and military officials, including Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, the focus of Prigozhin’s wrath.
Prigozhin said on Monday that a one-day mutiny had been intended not to overthrow Russia’s government but to register a protest over what he said was its ineffectual conduct of the war in Ukraine.
“We did not have the goal of overthrowing the existing regime and the legally elected government,” he said in an 11-minute audio message released on the Telegram messaging app.
The Federal Security Service said it had dropped a criminal case against Prigozhin for armed mutiny while the defence ministry said Wagner group was preparing to hand over its heavy military equipment to the army.