Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday he let Saturday's aborted mutiny go on as long as it did to avoid bloodshed, while the Wagner mercenary group boss who led the uprising said he never intended to overthrow the government.
Putin's televised address was his first public comment since Saturday, when he had said the rebellion threatened Russia's very existence and those behind it would be punished.
"From the very beginning of the events, steps were taken on my direct instruction to avoid serious bloodshed," Putin said on Monday.
"Time was needed, among other things, to give those who had made a mistake a chance to come to their senses, to realise that their actions were firmly rejected by society, and that the adventure in which they had been involved had tragic and destructive consequences for Russia and for our state."
Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin spoke in an 11-minute audio message that was posted on his press service's Telegram channel and which gave few clues to his whereabouts, or the deal under which he halted the move toward Moscow.
Prigozhin shocked the world by leading Saturday's armed revolt, an event that numerous Western leaders saw as exposing Putin's vulnerability after invading Ukraine 16 months ago.
The mercenary leader abruptly called the uprising off after his fighters had approached Moscow with virtually no resistance during a dash of nearly 800km.
The Russian president said on Monday he would honour his weekend promise to allow Wagner forces to relocate to Belarus if they wanted, sign a contract with Russia's Defence Ministry, or return to their families.
He made no mention of Prigozhin. Putin met on Monday night with the heads of Russian security services, including Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, IFX reported, citing a Kremlin spokesman.
One of Prigozhin's principal demands had been that Shoigu be sacked, along with Russia's top general, who by Monday evening had yet to appear in public since the mutiny.
Prigozhin, 62, a former Putin ally and ex-convict whose forces have fought the bloodiest battles of the Ukraine war, defied orders this month to place his troops under Defence Ministry command.
Prigozhin whereabouts unclear
Last seen on Saturday night smiling and high-fiving bystanders from the back of an SUV as he withdrew from a city occupied by his men, Prigozhin said his fighters had halted their campaign in order to avert bloodshed.
"We went as a demonstration of protest, not to overthrow the government of the country," Prigozhin said in the audio message.
He made no direct reference to his own whereabouts, nor provided further details of the mysterious agreement that had brought a halt to his mutiny.
On Saturday Prigozhin had said he was leaving for Belarus under a deal brokered by its president, Alexander Lukashenko. In Monday's remarks he said Lukashenko had offered to let Wagner operate under a legal framework, but did not elaborate.
The White House said it could not confirm whether the Wagner chief was in Belarus.
Prigozhin said his men had been forced to shoot down helicopters that attacked them as they drove towards Moscow.
Putin also alluded to some fighting, saying "the organisers of the mutiny" had led the Wagner troops "to shoot their own."
Putin thanked Wagner fighters and commanders who stood down to avoid what he called "fratricidal bloodshed", and said the vast majority of Wagner's members were patriots.
Russia's three main news agencies reported on Monday that a criminal case against Prigozhin had not been closed, an apparent reversal of an offer of immunity publicised as part of the deal that persuaded him to stand down.
'Nothing to do with it'
In comments before a speech at the White House, US President Joe Biden called the mutiny "part of a struggle within the Russian system". He discussed it in a conference call with key allies who agreed it was vital not to let Putin blame it on the West or Nato, he said.
"We made it clear that we were not involved. We had nothing to do with it," Biden said.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said US policy did not seek to change the government in Russia.
Foreign governments, both friendly and hostile to Russia, were left groping for answers to what had happened behind the scenes and what could come next.
"The political system is showing fragilities, and the military power is cracking," European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Luxembourg.
In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky said the military had made advances on Monday in all sectors of the front line. "It is a happy day," Zelensky said in his nightly video address, delivered from a train after visiting frontline positions. "May I wish our boys more such days."
Kyiv hopes the chaos caused by the mutiny attempt in Russia will undermine its defences as Ukraine presses on with a counteroffensive, begun earlier this month to recapture territory which Moscow claims to have annexed.
On Monday, Ukraine said its forces had recaptured the small southern village of Rivnopil, the ninth village it says it has retaken since launching the counteroffensive, and the first in more than a week. Russia said it had foiled Ukrainian attacks.