Alexander Lukashenko repeated his claim today that there were no heroes in the remarkably speedy resolution of Prigozhin’s mutiny, thanks at least in part to his own mediation efforts.
But the Belarusian leader is certainly capitalising on the huge media interest generated by the whole affair, inviting select journalists to the grand, marble-drenched Palace of Independence in the centre of Minsk for a morning Q&A, up close and personal with the president.
Not something Vladimir Putin has chosen to do, instead hosting Dagestani kids in the Kremlin and generally trying to make it seem as though the whole nasty episode is over and done with.
But it doesn’t really seem to be.
The deal that was struck to keep the Wagnerites from Moscow does not yet appear to have been fulfilled.
Yevgeny Prigozhin was not in Belarus but still in Russia, Mr Lukashenko said, though if anyone thought Mr Putin was so “vindictive and malicious” he might go ahead and “whack him somewhere tomorrow“… He won’t.
As far as Mr Lukashenko believes, Prigozhin is a free man, his possessions returned, all criminal cases dropped.
Does he see the possibility of a rapprochement between Prigozhin and the Kremlin?
He’s not sure, but the two men have known each other for 30 years, he said, and had enjoyed a “very good relationship with each other, maybe even more than good relations”, whatever that may mean.
Discussions are still ongoing as to where and how Wagner troops in Belarus will be based, not necessarily at the base near Osipovichi where satellite imagery suggests a build-up of military facilities, but in a number of other spots, he said.
Are Wagner forces a threat to Belarus?
Does he consider a bunch of battle-hardened, ex-con mercenaries a threat, men who’d marched on Moscow and who might countenance marching on Minsk?
Not at all.
Belarus can use their expertise, and with 750,000 of his own troops, it is not as if Wagner forces can afford to get any smart ideas, per the Commander in Chief.
He repeated however that his forces had been on the brink of deploying to Moscow if the situation with Prigozhin had spiralled, to prevent a possible civil war.
Did he think the Russian President was weakened by the whole affair?
No, “don’t even hope for that”, he said.
Lukashenko claims Western targets already identified
The other key topic was nuclear weapons – and the deployment of tactical nuclear warheads to storage sites within Belarus.
Mr Lukashenko seemed delighted that the transfer had happened without, he believed, the West having any idea how he and Putin had managed it.
Despite the fact the Kremlin has always maintained any firing rights remain with Russia alone, Mr Lukashenko insisted that any aggression onto Belarusian territory would be met with a response, with targets in the West already identified, he claimed.
As for the idea that the Chinese President might have warned Russia off using nuclear weapons, as reported by the Financial Times, he said that was just fake news.
He knows Xi Jinping personally, he said, and he knows he would never tell Putin that.
This was a way of trying to divide key allies, he said.
Mr Lukashenko was chatty and accommodating. He likes these kinds of events.
A chance to set out his stall to the international press and soak in the adulation from his own.
I’d gone with the vague hope we might see Prigozhin sitting beside him, wheeled out for the occasion.
But that was not to be.
Still, Mr Lukashenko said he’d pass on our request for an interview with the Wagner boss.
Let’s see if that promise holds.