Lukashenko, who brokered the deal between Putin and Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin that prevented a civil war on the streets of Moscow, said Putin called him around 10 a.m. local time on Saturday morning as thousands of Wagner Group fighters under the command of Prigozhin were marching toward the Russian capital.
“The most dangerous thing, as I saw it, was not the situation itself, but its possible ramifications. That was the most dangerous part of it,” Lukashenko said Tuesday following a ceremony in the Belarusian capitol of Minsk. “I also realized that a tough decision was taken … to eliminate those involved.”
“I suggested that Putin should not rush to do it. I suggested that I talk to Prigozhin, his commanders,” Lukashenko continued.
Putin initially insisted it was “useless” to try and negotiate with Prigozhin, according to Lukashenko’s account of the conversation.
But Lukashenko said he would try to contact the mercenary chief and persuaded the Russian president that a “bad peace is better than any war,” he recounted.
Lukashenko said Tuesday that he reached Prigozhin around 11 a.m. on Saturday and found the Wagner boss “was completely euphoric.”
“During the first round we talked using only swear words for about 30 minutes. I analyzed it later. The number of swear words was ten times higher than that of normal words,” Lukashenko said.
According to Lukashenko, Prigozhin said he wanted to oust from power Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia’s General Staff, and meet with Putin, a demand the Belarusian leader quickly shot down.
“You know Putin as much as I do. Secondly, he will not meet with you, he will not even talk on the phone with you in this situation,” Lukashenko claimed he told Prigozhin.
The Belarusian president says he conducted about seven rounds of talks between Putin and Prigozhin, who Lukashenko claimed was frantic that he would be “destroyed” by the Russian Ministry of Defense.
Lukashenko said he told the Wagner chief his rebellion stood little chance of succeeding, while he informed the Russian president that, even if he successfully defeated Wagner Group, thousands of civilians could die in the clash.
With Wagner forces just 120 miles from Moscow, the deal was reached in which Prigozhin would be exiled to Belarus with guarantees of safety while Putin would drop terrorism charges against him.
“The turmoil was thus prevented. Dangerous events that might have taken place were reversed,” Lukashenko said. ““I must say it was painful for me to watch the recent developments in the south of Russia. Many of our citizens took them to heart as well.”
Lukashenko is a close ally of Putin who has been accused of authoritarianism and human rights abuses, and it’s unclear how honest his account of the story has been. However, Lukashenko’s role in negotiating the deal has been widely reported.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that Prigozhin wanted to capture Shoigu and Gerasimov and had amassed troops and equipment for days ahead of the execution of the plan. Prigozhin has for months accused the military leaders of fumbling the war effort in Ukraine, refusing to supply him with necessary equipment and of corruption.
Prigozhin was forced to hastily advance his plans on Friday after Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, opened a criminal case against him for inciting an armed rebellion. The mercenary leader captured a city in southern Russia before moving on Moscow on Saturday.