The Belarusian president has been hailed as a hero by some Russians after brokering a deal that ended a rebellion by the Wagner mercenary group. What is his relationship with Vladimir Putin?
Three days after leading a failed rebellion the head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, landed in Belarus on a private jet.
His flight to exile formed part of a deal with the Kremlin that was brokered by Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, and ended his private army’s towards Moscow.
Lukashenko was hailed a “hero” for showing “captainship of the highest order”, with Belarusian state media claiming he’d “saved” the Russian capital.
His presidential term has lasted nearly three decades.
Once a manager of a Soviet collective pig farm, the 68-year-old quickly rose to power in the early 1990s, building a cult personality as “the father” of Belarus.
But since 2020, Alexander Lukashenko has not been internationally recognised as president of Belarus.
Mass protests erupted after he claimed to have won 80 per cent of the vote in presidential elections, which many people believed were rigged.
At the time, there was already widespread anger in Belarus over spiralling Covid-19 infection rates and an economic crisis. But Alexander Lukashenko doubled down, and said he’d secured “comprehensive help” from Russia if it was needed.
Russian television journalists replaced the Belarusian ones that had gone on strike, and the policy of “selective arrests” used by Russian police was copied by their Belarusian counterparts.
Russia’s support for Lukashenko during this period meant he owed Vladimir Putin a favour.
One of them was allowing Russian troops to mass on Belarus’s border with Ukraine, effectively undermining his country’s sovereignty.
Another came when Lukashenko helped Putin end the Wagner rebellion.
As part of that deal the Belarusian president said some of the mercenaries were welcome to stay in the country “for some time” at their own expense.
For now, they have been offered the use of an abandoned military base there.
Lukashenko has so far managed to avoid Belarus getting embroiled in the war in Ukraine while maintaining friendly relations with Vladimir Putin. But that could all change if Prigozhin makes himself too at home in Belarus.
While a truce has been reached, it’s unlikely Prigozhin will settle in Belarus for long.
This episode was written and mixed by Imy Harper.