As Evgeny Prigozhin’s armored convoy of some 25,000 battle-hardened, heavily-armed men made their way to Moscow on their “March of Fairness,” people in the capital were mostly going about their regular lives. The museums were crowded, as were the cafés. People celebrated their weddings. Underneath, of course, was panic. Cash withdrawals, by the Kremlin’s own account, jumped 30 percent. Some people with means, anticipating chaos and bloodshed, tried to get on a plane out of the country—or into a car to get out of the city to the relative safety of their dachas.
But in a society that’s accustomed to unpredictability, where everyone knows that the volcano on whose slopes they live may blow at any moment, it’s easy to hide that panic. You wrap it in silence, you channel it into doom-scrolling and macabre jokes, and you hope the lava never reaches you. It is a sense that is perhaps even more solid among those who have decided to stay when a million of their fellow citizens fled the country after Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It is also, as one well-connected Moscow source told me, some classic “Russian fatalism and don’t-give-a-crap-ism.” As one friend in the city put it: “The mood in Moscow is that it’s just a blip in the drama we already have. The mood hasn’t changed.”
Prigozhin’s troops, as we now know, never got to Moscow. Instead, Prigozhin announced that he was turning around, just 125 miles from the capital. A deal had been reached between Vladimir Putin and the man once known as his chef, brokered, apparently, by Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko. The agreement gave amnesty to Wagner mercenary fighters who had participated in the 24-hour putsch and allowed Prigozhin to go into Belarusian exile with those fighters who had accompanied him. Those who did not follow Prigozhin on his march were magnanimously allowed to sign contracts with the Defense Ministry. Wagner would now be swallowed up by the M.O.D., which is what set this whole thing off to begin with.