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Lukashenko gains advantage in Russia-Wagner feud

Lukashenko gains advantage in Russia-Wagner feud

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has emerged as a winner in the clash between Russia and the Wagner military group, a private security contractor with ties to the Kremlin.

Lukashenko, who has faced mass protests and international sanctions since his disputed re-election last year, has accused Wagner of plotting a coup against him and arrested 33 of its members in July 2020.

He later released them to Russia, but not before extracting a public apology from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had initially denied any involvement in the alleged plot.

Now, Lukashenko has further exploited the rift between Putin and Wagner’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is also a media mogul and a close ally of the Russian leader.

Lukashenko claimed on Thursday that he had evidence that Prigozhin was behind the killing of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2018. The journalists were investigating Wagner’s activities in the country, where it has been accused of human rights abuses and meddling in local politics.

Lukashenko said he had handed over the evidence to Putin, who reportedly promised to investigate the matter. He also said he had offered to help Putin arrest Prigozhin, who is wanted by several countries on various charges.

Prigozhin, who denies any involvement in the journalists’ deaths or the coup attempt in Belarus, has vowed to take revenge on Lukashenko for his betrayal. He said he would sue him for defamation and support his opponents in Belarus.

However, analysts say that Lukashenko has gained an upper hand in his relations with Putin by exposing Prigozhin’s activities and creating divisions within Russia’s power structures.

Lukashenko has also secured economic and military support from Putin, who sees him as a buffer against NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe. Putin has agreed to supply Belarus with cheap oil and gas, as well as advanced weapons systems.

Lukashenko’s maneuvering shows that he is not a puppet of Moscow, but a savvy politician who can use his leverage to survive amid domestic and international pressure.

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