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Putin-Prigozhin meeting raises more questions about aborted revolt in Russia

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're still trying to understand what, if anything, has resulted from that aborted revolt in Russia a couple of weeks ago. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov revealed to reporters yesterday that President Putin met with the leader of that revolt, Yevgeny Prigozhin, along with three dozen of his mercenary commanders, just days after the failed uprising. The three-hour meeting raises all kinds of questions about what is going on between the two men and the institutions they control. To try to get some insight into this, we called Nina Khrushcheva. She is a professor of international affairs at The New School in New York City, and she's also the great-granddaughter of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. And she's on the line with us from Moscow. Professor Khrushcheva, thank you so much for joining us.

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA: Thank you. Good morning.

MARTIN: Why do you think the Kremlin chose to reveal this meeting between Putin and Prigozhin now?

KHRUSHCHEVA: I think they wouldn't want to. They probably didn't plan to, but because - but there's so much leakage going on. It has been information about that. So they thought that sort of incoherent message by Peskov would stem the leaking, and then people wouldn't ask for the questions. Of course, we do ask for the questions. But in Russia, very few people, in fact, ask them publicly because they don't know how the state would respond to that.

MARTIN: I'm going to ask you more about that later. But I did want to ask, what do you think their meeting so soon after the mutiny tells us about what is going on between the two of these men - between these two men?

KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, we know that Prigozhin has been threatening his enemies with a sledgehammer all the time. We also know that Putin is not a forgiving type. So my feeling was when Putin pardoned the Wagner Group with various cases of it, Prigozhin was a dead man walking. But I think the meeting really suggests to - it's to suggest to Putin that Prigozhin is not his enemy. And I am very curious as to find out what kind of - the amount of mea culpa that Prigozhin was doing and also what kind of extra services because he know - we know he was Putin's chef. He was Putin's military man and so on. What kind of extra services Prigozhin promised to Putin? I think it was a probably plea for him to stay alive.

MARTIN: Well, exactly to that point, I mean, it's not exactly a secret that people who've run afoul of Putin have met, you know, some very unpleasant ends. And I think a lot of people are wondering, why is it that Prigozhin has so far been spared this?

KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, Prigozhin actually - his march on Moscow was - he was very adamant that it was not against Putin. It was actually against the military commanders that are not doing the job that they should be doing. And he was very, very adamant about this. I mean, Putin, of course, took it personally. He spoke twice about it. We know that he thinks it's a treason. But now with the war in Ukraine essentially stalling, he does need to have some sort of pacifying efforts and peace and quiet. And so that's exactly why I think he pardoned Prigozhin. I don't really believe that Putin is ever capable of forgiving him.

MARTIN: Well, remember, the spokesman said during the meeting that Putin discussed, quote, unquote, "new employment options" for Prigozhin's Wagner Group. What do you think that means?

KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, and he already - Putin himself already said that they go to Belarus, so they may be able to do some work there. There's also been talk that they continue to service Africa they have - they - as they did before and maybe continue to be in Syria. We also know that some of their property - some of Prigozhin's property was returned, which is kind of almost unheard of. So he had a mutiny, and suddenly, all his money is back at him. So I think that's what I'm looking at - is what kind of services Prigozhin offered to Putin, extra services.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, as briefly as you can, are people talking about this in Moscow?

KHRUSHCHEVA: All the time. I mean, in absolute numbers but not publicly. Privately, a lot.

MARTIN: Nina Khrushcheva, thank you so much for talking with us today.

KHRUSHCHEVA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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