Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin flew into exile in Belarus on Tuesday (Jun 27) under a deal that ended a brief mutiny by his fighters, as President Vladimir Putin praised his armed forces for averting a civil war.
A plane linked to Prigozhin was shown on a flight tracking service taking off from the southern Russian city of Rostov early on Tuesday and landing in Belarus.
“I see Prigozhin is already flying in on this plane,” state news agency BELTA quoted Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as saying. “Yes, indeed, he is in Belarus today.”
In Moscow, Putin sought to reassert his authority after the mutiny led by Prigozhin in protest against the Russian military’s handling of the conflict in Ukraine.
Russian authorities also dropped a criminal case against his Wagner Group mercenary force, state news agency RIA reported, apparently fulfilling another condition of the deal brokered by Lukashenko late on Saturday that defused the crisis.
Prigozhin, a former Putin ally and ex-convict whose mercenaries have fought the bloodiest battles of the Ukraine war and taken heavy casualties, had earlier said he would go to neighbouring Belarus at the invitation of Lukashenko, a close ally of Putin and an acquaintance of the Wagner chief.
Ukraine hopes the chaos caused by the mutiny attempt will undermine Russian defences as Kyiv presses on with a counteroffensive to recapture occupied territory in the south and east.
There was little news about progress on the battlefield on Tuesday, but the governor of Donetsk region said in mid-evening that two Russian missiles had struck a crowded area of restaurants in the eastern city of Kramatorsk.
“This is the city centre. These were public eating places crowded with civilians,” the governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, told Ukrainian television.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said on Telegram that two people had been killed and 22 wounded.
Pictures posted on social media showed parts of some buildings reduced to rubble and smashed building materials scattered on the ground.
Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians since launching what it terms a “special military operation” in Ukraine in February 2022.