Looking back on a mercenary march that reached within 125 miles of Moscow, even one of the most famous faces of Russian state media had to concede it was a “difficult” week.
But the TV host, Dmitry Kiselyov, spun the week’s dramatic events — a mutiny by Wagner mercenary forces, two angry speeches by Russia’s otherwise absent president, and the sudden exile of Wagner’s leader — into causes for celebration, despite it being the most significant challenge to President Vladimir V. Putin’s rule in years.
“On the one hand, it was a clearly a betrayal,” Mr. Kiselyov said in early July on “News of the Week,” Russia’s flagship political program on state TV. “On the other hand, it showed the unity of the people and all levels of power around the president of Russia.”
Mr. Putin, he said, had actually saved the day.
The Kremlin itself put Mr. Putin on display in one appearance after another, surrounding him with triumphant imagery this week even though he remained out of sight for most of the mutiny, and had allowed rivalries to fester publicly for months between Mr. Prigozhin and Russia’s military leaders.
Russian state media and sympathetic bloggers were quick to use Mr. Putin’s rush of appearances to show him as a man of the people, with some even noting how rare it was for the president to appear close to members of the public. (For over three years, the Kremlin has enforced a “clean zone” around the president, forcing people to quarantine before coming near him, and he has kept even world leaders at a distance in some meetings.)
But after Mr. Putin traveled to Dagestan to tout tourism opportunities in the Caucasus, Mr. Kiselyov said that the president was “visibly drawn to the people” in a “highly emotional” moment. A state TV reporter, Pavel Zarubin, provided shaky cellphone footage and glowing commentary.
The Kremlin later announced that Mr. Putin had actually met Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenaries, just days after the mutiny. But while state media had portrayed the president as a beloved hero, Mr, Prigozhin was cast as a traitor whose ego and greed had led him to challenge the military, the state and the president himself.
Mr. Kiselyov said that Mr. Prigozhin “went crazy” for money, raising speculation that the mercenary leader was going to lose lucrative Defense Ministry contracts for his other business: food services. And the TV host compared him to several other rebels of Russian history — only mentioning those that ended in grim failures.
Sarah Kerr contributed production.