After humiliating Vladimir Putin, it seems unlikely the bloodthirsty chief of the feared Wagner Group will now slip off quietly into retirement.Yevgen
Yevgeny Prigozhin’s renegade army were within 120 miles of Moscow when he dramatically called off his armed uprising.
In return, the Kremlin said he would be given immunity from prosecution and safe passage to neighbouring Belarus.
But there was no sign the former petty criminal turned warlord had taken up exile there last night amid speculation he could flee to Africa or the Middle East.
He was last seen in a car leaving Rostov-on-Don, the city in southern Russia he claimed to control for a day, late on Saturday. He was photographed smiling as he shook hands with cheering locals.
Yevgeny Prigozhin was last seen in a car leaving Rostov-on-Don, the city in southern Russia he claimed to control for a day, late on Saturday
Prigozhin, a former hot dog seller turned private militia boss, was also quiet online. He made no posts yesterday on the Wagner Group’s social media channels, which were updated regularly on Saturday.
Prigozhin’s press office told Russian broadcaster RTVI yesterday afternoon that he was ‘not available’.
‘He sends his regards to everyone and will answer questions when he has a normal [phone] connection,’ an RTVI reporter was told after an inquiry.
It remains to be seen if the multimillionaire warlord will travel to Belarus following the deal brokered by its dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, a Russian ally and long-time friend of Prigozhin.
Experts said that even if he did travel it was unlikely he would remain there.
Once a close ally of the Russian president, Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenary group – manned with newly recruited convicts – delivered battlefield success for Putin in Ukraine.
His mercenaries also operated on behalf of the Russian government in Syria and Africa.
But Prigozhin became increasingly critical of Russia’s approach to the conflict in Ukraine in recent months. Experts say his freedom and security would depend on what he decided to do next.
The coup, though unsuccessful, is a huge embarrassment to Putin – who had vowed earlier to punish those behind the armed uprising.
Yevgeny Prigozhin was photographed smiling as he shook hands with cheering locals
Some convict fighters who had expressed support for Prigozhin and his armed coup accused him of ‘walking off’ after he struck a deal with the Russian president.
Recruits of Storm Z, a Russian military unit of convicts, stood in combat uniform holding assault rifles as one addressed Prigozhin and said he was ‘not a man’ after he called off the mutiny.
‘Rumours say you walked off – The whole of Storm Z was ready to stand behind you, and not only Storm Z, your guys also. But you walked off,’ he added. Mikhail Kasyanov, a former Russian prime minister turned Putin critic, said he believed Prigozhin’s days were numbered.
‘I think first he will go to Belarus, but I think he will go from Belarus to Africa and be somewhere in the jungle or something like that. Mr Putin cannot forgive him for this.’
Filmmaker Jack Losh, who recently returned from Ukraine and has reported extensively on the Wagner Group said: ‘I’d be watching behind my back for a long time to come because we know that the Putin system does not forgive, and it certainly does not forget.’
A local woman posed with private military company (PMC) Wagner Group serviceman as he prepared to leave downtown Rostov-on-Don, southern Russia
Prigozhin, who was born in St Petersburg, was convicted of a string of robberies and spent nine years in the Soviet prison system before setting up a hot dog stand.
He went on to open a restaurant in St Petersburg where he came into contact with the city’s elite including Putin, at that point an up-and-coming politician.
Prigozhin, a married father of three, went on to win a contract to supply the Russian military with meals, said to be worth $1.2billion for one year – earning the nickname ‘Putin’s chef’ before establishing the Wagner Group.
As of last night, there were still no reports of Prigozhin arriving in Belarus. Many other questions remained unanswered, including whether he would be joined in exile by any of Wagner’s troops and what role, if any, he might have there.
The only message yesterday came from the Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel Grey Zone which reposted a poem headlined: ‘All’s been decided. Almost.’