By Matthew Chance, Katharina Krebs and Mick Krever, CNN
Minsk, Belarus (CNN) — Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin is not in Belarus and it is unclear if his fighters will move to the country, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told CNN Thursday, raising new questions about the purported deal that ended Wagner’s armed rebellion last month.
Prigozhin had reportedly traveled to Belarus as part of a Lukashenko-brokered deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin following the failed uprising, but the Belarusian president told CNN’s Matthew Chance that the Wagner leader is now in Russia.
“In terms of Yevgeny Prigozhin, he is in St. Petersburg. Or maybe this morning he would travel to Moscow or elsewhere,” Lukashenko said in response to a question from Chance during a press conference with international media in Minsk. “But he is not on the territory of Belarus now.”
His comments – and footage purporting to show a police raid on Prigozhin’s premises in St. Petersburg – raise new questions over the status of the Wagner boss, who has not been seen in public since June 24 when he left Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia after halting his march on Moscow – the biggest threat to Putin’s 23-year rule.
The Kremlin refused to comment on Prigozhin’s whereabouts to CNN, claiming “we do not track his movements.
“We have neither the ability nor the desire to do so.”
Lukashenko said Moscow will determine whether the paramilitary group’s fighters will come to Belarus, saying that decision will be made “in the near future.”
In the wake of Prigozhin’s aborted insurrection in Russia, Lukashenko said he would house Wagner fighters in Belarus. Until Thursday, it was unclear whether they had arrived in Belarus.
The Kremlin leader previously threatened a harsh response to those participating in the rebellion, suggesting fighters on “the past of treason” would be punished.
But Lukashenko claimed Prigozhin “is free” and said he did not believe Putin would seek vengeance on the Wagner chief.
“What will happen to Prigozhin next? Well, everything happens in life. But if you think that Putin is so malicious and vindictive that he will ‘kill’ Prigozhin tomorrow – no, this will not happen.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said talks would be held between Prigozhin and Putin. He said Prigozhin’s supposed relocation to Belarus was one of the conditions agreed on by both leaders.
Belarus played a key role in the war. Russian troops launched the invasion on February 24, 2022, crossing into Ukraine from Belarus as well as Russia.
But Lukashenko said on Thursday he does not regret his country’s participation in the conflict, because “I did not take part in this process.”
Footage shows gold, money and wigs
Meanwhile, Russian state media released footage purporting to show a police raid on Prigozhin’s office and residence in St. Petersburg, stepping up an apparent propaganda campaign against the Wagner boss.
The footage – described by TV anchors as “scandalous” – shows what is described as a stash of gold, money and wigs, along with weapons and several passports apparently belonging to Prigozhin under different aliases.
Until recently, Russian state television lionized Wagner’s operations in Ukraine, but the outlets now appear to be vilifying the founder of the private military company following the failed uprising.
A lengthy segment aired on state television detailed Prigozhin’s criminal past, including allegations of robbery and assault as well as a lengthy sentence in a penal colony in the 1980s.
Russian state TV presenters said “there were also guns and a collection of passports with the same photo but with different names and surnames.”
Presenters also mentioned that “suspicious packages” were found during a search, insinuating that they might be drugs.
In a separate segment, Russia 24 aired a video of police raiding his office and several photographs of a richly decorated house where a wardrobe full of differently colored wigs can be seen.
Russian state television often airs dramatic footage of what are described as raids by security services and foiled terrorist plots.
Experts and human rights advocates say Russian authorities have a pattern of fabricating criminal cases against the Kremlin’s political challengers.
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CNN’s Josh Pennington, Nathan Hodge and Anna Chernova contributed to this report.