Well, 24 hours later I feel no closer to understanding what just happened.
I do not buy the idea it was all a clever charade designed by Putin. The damage it has caused to his image of great strength, and to the notion of the state monopoly of violence within Russia, is greater damage than can be counterbalanced by any alleged tactical change inside Ukraine.
I don’t see that change anyway, and frankly Russia did not need any such drama. Ukraine’s much trumpeted counter-offensive appears a damp squib.
If looking for something below the surface, the idea that Prigozhin had been turned by some kind of offer from the West seems more probable, but is hard to square with his sudden capitulation.
However the surface story of what just happened is equally implausible.
Wagner seem to have suffered no major reverse and encountered no serious military opposition before they turned round and gave back all they have taken. For which Prigozhin has on the face of it received nothing in turn but a rather fragile life as a guest of Lukashenko.
While Putin appears to have allowed an actual military revolt that killed at least a few Russian soldiers and airmen to take place, with no punishment. That seems to me very contrary to Putin’s nature.
These are my thoughts. But I am struggling enormously to understand this. As are the ordinary Russian public, for whom the whole incident has been surreal.