By Steve Rosenberg
Russian President Vladimir Putin met Yevgeny Prigozhin five days after the Wagner mercenary boss led a failed mutiny, the Kremlin has revealed. The BBC’s Russia Editor gets to grips with the latest twist in the Wagner saga.
So, let me get this straight.
On the morning of 24 June, the day of the mutiny, Vladimir Putin accused the Wagner leadership of “treachery” and “a stab in the back”. Later that day, Russian air force pilots were killed, shot down by Wagner fighters.
Then, with the mercenaries just 200km (120 miles) from the Russian capital, the Kremlin and Wagner did a deal. The mutiny was over. No-one was arrested. No-one has been prosecuted.
Not only was Yevgeny Prigozhin not clapped in irons and hauled off to the police station for his rebellion – it’s now emerged that five days later he was in the Kremlin, together with his commanders, sitting round the table and chatting with President Putin.
Yet another twist and turn in a story that’s already surpassed Dostoyevsky for levels of surprise and mystery.
What we don’t know, though, is what exactly was said at that meeting and how it concluded. Judging by what’s happened since, this was no “kiss and make up”.
In recent days, the Russian state media has been working overtime to discredit Mr Prigozhin.
Potentially embarrassing photographs allegedly taken during the raid of his St Petersburg mansion were leaked to social media and Russian TV. They showed gold bars, weapons and – bizarrely – a large collection of wigs.
Last night Russia-1’s flagship show, News of the Week, continued the character assassination.
A report about Mr Prigozhin claimed: “He’s not the Robin Hood he tried to pass himself off as. He was a businessman with a criminal past. Many of his projects were dodgy and not always within the law.”
And what of that deal between the Kremlin and Wagner to end the mutiny on 24 June? According to the agreement, Mr Prigozhin was supposed to leave Russia for Belarus, along with those Wagner fighters who expressed the desire to join him.
Last week the leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, told us that the Wagner chief and his mercenaries weren’t there. To summarise his point: they might end up in Belarus – but they might not.
So that’s all clear then. Not.
Where are Wagner? Where is Mr Prigozhin? What are their plans? What have they agreed with Mr Putin?
I wish I knew.
For now, all I can say is this: stay tuned for the next (inevitably bizarre) episode of Russia: the June Mutiny and the Kremlin.