US official says 'exiled' Wagner boss Prigozhin may not have gone to Belarus at all — and may have used a body double to make it appear as though he fled Russia

Yevgeny Prigozhin sitting at a table with other people while wearing a black suit and a silver tie at a formal event.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin in 2017.SERGEI ILNITSKY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
  • Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was exiled to Belarus last month after staging an armed rebellion.

  • But the former Putin ally apparently reappeared in St. Petersburg this week, sparking confusion.

  • A Pentagon official told The New York Times it appears Prigozhin has mostly been in Russia.

Yevgeny Prigozhin was exiled to Belarus last month after he used his mercenary Wagner Group to stage an armed mutiny against Moscow's military leadership, but after he apparently appeared in St. Petersburg this week, some have questioned whether he'd actually left Russia at all.

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, who took credit for convincing Russian President Vladimir Putin not to assassinate Prigozhin, helped broker the deal that ended the revolt, which included Prigozhin's exile. But Lukashenko said Thursday the Wagner boss was already back in Russia.

Former CIA spies told Insider's Sonam Sheth that Prigozhin's swift return signaled weakness on behalf of Putin — who in the past has jailed or even killed adversaries for far less than an armed rebellion.

But things got even weirder with the suggestion that perhaps Prigozhin never went to Belarus.

An unnamed Pentagon official told The New York Times that Prigozhin has actually been in Russia — Moscow or St. Petersburg — for most of the time since the mutiny. The official also said it was unclear if Prigozhin ever went to Belarus, noting he is believed to employ body doubles.

An official also told the Times it did not appear any Wagner troops were in Belarus and that most were still at bases in eastern Ukraine. Lukashenko also told reporters Thursday that it was unclear if the Wagner fighters would come to Belarus after he previously offered them a desert military base.

Prigozhin's history of apparently using body doubles is unclear, but similar rumors have long surrounded Putin. For years conspiracy theories that Putin deployed people who looked like him for security reasons have popped up online, prompting the Kremlin to dismiss them.

Putin has even said he was offered the chance to use body doubles on his visits to Chechnya in the early 2000s, but that he always declined.

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