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Belarus Leader Critical of Kremlin-Wagner Spat


FILE: Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speak during their meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the resort city of Sochi, Russia, on Fri. June 9, 2023.

MOSCOW — Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko said Tuesday that long-standing tensions between Moscow's army and the Wagner mercenary group, which staged a mutiny in Russia, had been mismanaged.

Lukashenko was speaking three days after he had brokered a deal to end the rebellion that rattled his Russian ally Vladimir Putin.

"We missed the situation, and then we thought that it would resolve itself, but it did not resolve," Lukashenko said.

"Two people who fought at the front clashed, there are no heroes in this case," he added, in an apparent reference to the Wagner chief who rebelled, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and his rival Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

The jab implied that Putin - seen as a mediator between competing Russian factions - had also not dealt with the conflict well or on time.

Lukashenko, on Tuesday said his authoritarian country would benefit from combat experience of Wagner fighters exiled to the ex-Soviet state after a failed uprising in Russia.

"If their commanders come to us and help us ... (this is) experience. They've been through it. They'll tell you about weapons: which ones worked well, which ones didn't. And tactics, and weapons, and how to attack, how to defend. This is priceless," Lukashenko, who offered to take in Wagner fighters, said during a meeting with his defense minister, according to state media.

Lukashenko said he had ordered his army to be "combat ready" during the uprising in Russia.

"I gave all the orders to bring the army to full combat readiness."

And the Moscow ally said that if Russia "collapsed" then "we would all die," while warning that the West would "take advantage" of any "turmoil."

Observers have said that some of Russia's "siloviki" - members of Russia's security apparatus and those close to them - would also be unhappy with Putin for not dealing with the conflict quickly enough.

Under the deal mediated by Lukashenko, Prigozhin was expected to move to Belarus, but Lukashenko did not disclose Prigozhin's location.

Putin said Monday that Wagner fighters would also be given the opportunity to go to Belarus, or to join the regular Russian army.