Russia’s FSB security service has dropped a criminal investigation into Yevgeny Prigozhin over his armed mutiny as a jet linked to the mercenary chief flew to Belarus from Russia.
The Kremlin had earlier promised to drop charges against Prigozhin as part of a deal negotiated by the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, under which the Wagner leader is meant to move to Belarus.
The FSB said its investigation found those involved in the mutiny “ceased activities directed at committing the crime”.
On Monday Prigozhin issued a defiant 11-minute statement in which he defended the Wagner uprising and denied that he had sought to topple Vladimir Putin.
He made no mention of his whereabouts but flight data showed that a Russian-registered Embraer Legacy 600 jet, which is linked to Prigozhin in US sanctions documents, flew to Belarus from Russia on Tuesday morning.
The flight tracking website Flightradar24 showed the jet descending to landing altitude near the Belarusian capital, Minsk. It first appeared on the tracking site above Rostov, the southern Russian city Prigozhin’s fighters captured on Saturday.
In an unscheduled address to the nation on Monday evening, Putin stated that the Wagner group would be shut down and that the group’s fighters had the choice to sign a contract with the ministry of defence or relocate to Belarus.
The Kremlin had previously said it would guarantee Prigozhin’s safe passage to Belarus, and Putin’s remarks indicated that other Wagner fighters could follow him there. Prigozhin himself said Lukashenko had agreed to let the group operate there.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Tuesday that Wagner was preparing to hand over heavy military equipment to the regular army. The defence ministry’s statement suggests the military leadership is swiftly moving ahead with the dissolution of Wagner, whose troops are believed to have returned to their bases in the Russian-occupied area of eastern Ukraine.
On Monday night the Kremlin released a video showing the Russian president meeting the head of the FSB and the defence minister, Sergei Shoigu. The footage showed tacit government support for Shoigu, whom Prigozhin had sought to oust.
Shoigu previously had ordered all volunteer detachments to sign contracts with his ministry by the end of the month, a step seen as an attempt to rein in Prigozhin by integrating Wagner into the army.
In his audio message on Monday, Prigozhin said his troops would resist being subsumed under the Russian defence ministry, would not sign contracts, and that Wagner could even be allowed to continue its operations in Belarus.