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‘They’ll squash you like a bug’ How Alexander Lukashenko ‘negotiated’ with Yevgeny Prigozhin, in his own words

Source: Meduza
The office of Alexander Lukashenko / AP / Scanpix / LETA

This article is a composite of the statements made by Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko about his role in stymying Yevgeny Prigozhin’s failed coup against Moscow. Meduza has assembled Lukashenko’s remarks from nine different stories published by the Belarusian news outlet Belta. (Here are the sources: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine). In our mosaic, we kept close to Lukashenko’s own folksy manner of storytelling, editing his words for clarity where necessary, but preserving the Belarusian president’s one-of-a-kind delivery.

When this “time of troubles,” as Putin calls it, was unfolding in Russia, everyone over there sat quaking in their boots. Everyone is good at waving their fists and talking about “squashing” the opponent after the fight. But this is why I want to talk about these events, in which I myself was completely immersed.

On Friday, June 23, I didn’t pay much attention to the sparse reports from Rostov. There’s a war, I thought, all kinds of things happen. But by Saturday morning, I got some troubling information. The FSB had told the Belarusian KGB that Putin wanted to get in touch. Okay, be my guest, I thought. So, at 10 a.m. he gave his address and at 10:10 a.m. he called me and informed me in detail. I realized the situation was complicated and a hardline decision had already been made. Their idea was to kill Prigozhin. I suggested to Putin that he shouldn’t rush things and that he better talk to Prigozhin and his commanders first. “It’s useless,” he said, “he doesn’t pick up the phone.” “Where is he now?” I asked. “In Rostov,” he said. And I said: “A bad peace is better than any war. I’ll try to get ahold of him.”

Putin and I talked for half-an-hour. He told me what was happening at the front. I remember him saying, “Oddly enough, things are going better than ever at the front.” At 11 a.m., I got in touch with Prigozhin. Yevkurov summoned him to the phone. Prigozhin was completely euphoric. For the first 30 minutes, we talked only in obscenities. I said to him, “No one’s gonna give you Shoigu or Gerasimov. You know Putin as well as I do. He’s not gonna meet with you or even talk to you on the phone in this setting.” He was silent. And then he shouts, “We want justice! They’re smothering us! We’re going to march on Moscow!” And I said to him: “They’ll squash you like a bug when you’re halfway there.” “No they won’t,” he says. That’s how carried away he was.

I spent a long time trying to persuade him. And in the end I told him: “Do what you want. But don’t hold a grudge against me. We’ve already prepared a brigade, and we’re ready to defend Moscow like it’s 1941.” And this isn’t because Russia is our Fatherland. It’s because if this insurgence spreads through Russia (and the preconditions are in place), we’ll be next. I told my media not to turn me into a hero in this situation, nor Putin or Prigozhin. Because we’d all slept through this situation. And when it started to develop, both Putin and I thought it would fizzle out on its own, but it didn’t. Instead, two experienced people who’d been to war were butting heads. Sergey Shoigu gets criticized for no good reason sometimes, but he’s found himself a niche where he can be effective.

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When talking to Prigozhin for the second or third time, I said: “Yevgeny, mark my words: no bloodshed, or no one will talk to you.” He swore to me there would not be any bloodshed. He also said he wouldn’t demand that Putin hand him Shoigu or Gerasimov. Then, after 4 p.m., he called me and said: “I accept all your conditions. But what am I to do? If we stop, they’ll start killing us all.” I said, “They won’t kill you. I guarantee it.” And I asked Bortnikov very firmly not to. Brotnikov said, “I’m no idiot, I know what can happen.” So I turned to Prigozhin and gave him a guarantee. He says, “What’s next?” “I’ll take you and your guys to Belarus and guarantee your full security.”

By evening, a defense line had been equipped outside of Moscow. They gathered everyone they could, right up to the cadets, Putin said. The police was in the reserve. They’d assembled 10,000 servicemen in the Kremlin and nearby. I worried that, if the Wagnerians collided with the troops 200 kilometers from Moscow, it would be the end of everything.

I asked Prigozhin to get in touch with Bortnikov. “He isn’t answering,” Prigozhin says. “He will answer.” Then I called Bortnikov and told him to pick up if Prigozhin calls. And Bortnikov was just boiling with fury. I asked him to set it all aside. They talked. Prigozhin turned his formations around and they left for the field camps in the Luhansk region. The coup was over. There were no heroes to speak of, because Putin and I were to blame for not taking measures sooner. But we did manage to stop this terrible event.

The security guarantees that Putin promised yesterday are all in place. Today, Prigozhin is in Belarus. So, as I promised, if you guys want to spend some time here at your own expense, we can help you with that. But, as Khrenin said, “I wouldn’t mind a unit like this in my own army.” I agree with him. We’re not yet building any camps for Wagner Group, but if they want us to, we’ll situate them. For the time being, they’re staying in their camps in the Luhansk region. We’ve offered them an abandoned army base. Here you go, pitch your tents.

How the Kremlin wants propagandists to tell this story

False patriots, rebels, and traitors The Kremlin’s media guidelines frame Prigozhin’s failed insurrection as a real danger, thwarted by Russia’s ‘valiant’ forces of law and order

How the Kremlin wants propagandists to tell this story

False patriots, rebels, and traitors The Kremlin’s media guidelines frame Prigozhin’s failed insurrection as a real danger, thwarted by Russia’s ‘valiant’ forces of law and order

Translated by Anna Razumnaya.

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