“It’s a signal to the elite that Prigozhin remains systemic,” Ms. Stanovaya said. “Yes, he made a mistake, yes, this is a very serious crime. But due to the specifics of the situation, which is really very unique, Putin will give him the opportunity to survive.”
The mutiny exposed Mr. Putin’s inability or unwillingness to deal with a power struggle that for months had raged in the open, with Mr. Prigozhin regularly launching profanity-laced invective at Russia’s military leadership on Telegram. Ms. Stanovaya, who is also a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, said she suspected Mr. Putin felt at least partly responsible for not better managing the escalating feud.
“So for Putin, Prigozhin is of course a traitor, but he’s his traitor,” Ms. Stanovaya said. “That is, a person who made a mistake out of stupidity, rather than out of malice.”
The Kremlin previously had been deflecting questions about Mr. Prigozhin’s status and whereabouts.
On the day Mr. Putin and Mr. Prigozhin met, Mr. Peskov told reporters he didn’t know where Mr. Prigozhin was. The following week, Mr. Peskov said the Kremlin had neither the “ability nor the desire” to track his movements.
But on Friday, the French newspaper Libération reported that Mr. Putin had met with Mr. Prigozhin and his Wagner commanders at the Kremlin to “negotiate the fate of his empire,” which include a range of business ventures.
On Monday, Mr. Peskov confirmed that the meeting took place, but added, “The details of it are unknown.”
Mr. Prigozhin’s forces have been important to Russia’s war against Ukraine, but last month the government ordered Wagner troops fighting there to join the regular military. Facing a major loss of power, Mr. Prigozhin railed loudly against the move, to no avail.