From Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 13, 2023, p. 2. Complete text:

The Kremlin confirmed that [Russian] President Vladimir Putin met personally with the commanders of the Wagner private military company and Yevgeny Prigozhin, and now it’s not entirely clear how the events of June 23-24 will be “officially” referred to [see Vol. 75, No. 26, pp. 3-9]. The designation “armed rebellion” seems to have become too damning, while the terms “armed mistake” or “armed misunderstanding” would sound strange, even mocking. In any case, the Kremlin has shown that it is willing to forgive true patriots for a mistake in the form of a rebellion, so long as they repent and reaffirm their loyalty.

To forgive is not at all to forget. Putin publicly uttered the word “betrayal,” and it did not look (and still doesn’t look) like part of something staged; on the contrary, it seemed to be a natural emotional reaction. The president has already had to say before that he would not be able to forgive betrayal. Of course, he has never encountered it in his inner circle. How close Prigozhin is to Putin personally is anyone’s guess. But the significance of the services provided to the state by the entities Prigozhin created appears to be high, hence the special treatment. The special status of Wagner’s founder is also highlighted by how many resources he’s been allowed to accumulate. We’re essentially talking about a small private army, about force – that is, the strongest argument in an intraelite dispute.

The Kremlin very quickly confirmed the information that had been essentially leaked to the French newspaper Liberation. This is not typical of the Russian government, which is used to denying such reports or simply not commenting. If there had been no leak, perhaps the government would have maintained the narrative previously presented: excessive ambition, deceived Wagner soldiers, [Belarussian President Aleksandr] Lukashenko’s important role, [Prigozhin’s] withdrawal to Belarus. Then again, keeping that narrative intact was no easy feat. For example, no one could figure out where Yevgeny Prigozhin himself was: He kept being “spotted” in Russia, and that did not fit his exile status at all. The June 29 meeting seemed to simplify everything. Most likely, this time the Kremlin’s PR mechanisms worked faster and more flexibly than usual, and it was decided that this “would be better” for the government’s image.

Why did the Kremlin itself not report on the meeting with Prigozhin and the Wagner commanders right away? Primarily because strong words had already been spoken, but mainly because society was shocked by what happened on June 23-24. People died, roads were blocked, military equipment was brought into peaceful cities and a counterterrorist operation was declared.

The reason given for the June 29 meeting is that Putin wanted a first-hand explanation. There is nothing implausible about that. In the decades that Putin has been in power, this is obviously not the first conflict within the elite or near-elite circles. Too many people, too many conflicting interests. The president is used to being the arbiter in such disputes, and that, of course, requires him to meet with people and listen to them.

What is unprecedented about this conflict is how public it is. The preceding ones could mostly be speculated about. Here, everything was stated with military bluntness, and the government was forced to respond the same way. At the top, it is well understood that it’s difficult to reconcile individuals within the elite. But politicizing intraelite disputes is a method the regime cannot accept. The meeting with the Wagnerites breaks with the narrative formed after June 23-24, but seems to be fully in line with the usual intraelite mechanisms. And it is much easier to marginalize an ambitious official or businessman than a militarized structure that the regime uses as an important tool and intends to keep using as such.