Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin – who led a short-lived rebellion in Russia last month – is in Russia and not Belarus, the leader of Belarus says.
Prigozhin’s whereabouts have been a mystery since the mutiny.
Under the deal to end the stand-off, charges against him were dropped and he was offered a move to Belarus.
But on Thursday Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko said: “As for Prigozhin, he’s in St Petersburg. He is not on the territory of Belarus.”
In response to Mr Lukashenko’s remarks the Kremlin said it was “not following” Mr Prigozhin’s movements.
Mr Lukashenko had helped broker the deal to end the mutiny, and just over a week ago said Prigozhin had arrived in Belarus.
The BBC tracked Prigozhin’s private jet flying to Belarus in late June, and returning to Russia the same evening.
It has since made several flights between St Petersburg and Moscow – although it is not clear if Prigozhin has been on board. The BBC also can’t verify Mr Lukashenko’s claim about the Wagner leader’s current location.
But the Belarusian leader told reporters he knew “for sure” that Prigzhin remained a free man, noting: “I spoke to him on the phone yesterday.
“On Thursday Mr Lukashenko added that “as far as I know” the rest of the Wagner fighters were still at their bases – which could include eastern Ukraine or a training base in Russia’s Krasnodar region.
The Belarus leader said an offer for Wagner to station some of its fighters in Belarus – a prospect that has alarmed neighbouring Nato countries – still stands and he has offered several Soviet-era military sites for their use.
“But Wagner have a different vision,” he said, adding: “Of course I won’t tell you about that.”
“At present, the issue of their relocation has not been resolved.”
Mr Lukashenko – who has ruled Belarus since 1994 and is widely thought to have rigged 2020 elections to maintain power – said he did not see Wagner fighters moving to Belarus as a risk and did not believe they would ever take up arms against his country. (BBC)