Brightly colored plastic roses and carnations were piled high around his gravestone, beneath the red-and-gold Wagner flag, in Siberia, near the town of Talofka, thousands of miles from the Ukrainian front.

“Blood, honor, motherland, bravery,” a Wagner inscription said. A mild breeze blew across the Troetskoe cemetery as agents of the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., looked on from a vehicle that had abruptly appeared nearby.

With Russian forces often bereft of essential equipment and sometimes operating as a human wave, Mr. Putin has needed flesh for the meat grinder. Mr. Prigozhin, recruiting in Russian prisons with offers of amnesty and big payouts, could provide that, from as far away as Siberia. He has been too effective and useful to toss aside.

In the long battle for the charred ruins of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut alone, Mr. Prigozhin has said Wagner lost 20,000 troops.

The use of Mr. Prigozhin, others suggested, was the apotheosis of Putin’s modus operandi of dividing his subordinates, shifting influence in recent years from Sergey V. Lavrov, the foreign minister, to Mr. Shoigu as the militarization of Russian society proceeded, only to undermine the defense minister through Mr. Prigozhin.

“Putin likes competition, he has liked putting pressure on Shoigu, and enjoyed the theater,” Dmitri A. Muratov, the Nobel-prize-winning editor of the shuttered independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, told me in an interview. “Meanwhile, the elite around Putin don’t give a damn for their country, they’re just afraid for their lives.”

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