The cryptic lines from Mr. Brodsky’s poem “Still Life,” a conversation between Jesus, dying on the cross, and his mother Mary echoed the uncertainty swirling around Mr. Prigozhin. “As I step on a threshold, / I know not nor decide: / Are you my son — or God? / Are you dead — or alive?”
The final stanza, in which Jesus responds to his mother, could be taken as a reflection of Mr. Prigozhin’s larger-than-life status and his professed devotion to his motherland: “Dead, or alive / There is no difference, woman / Son or God, I am yours.”
Many of Mr. Prigozhin’s adherents have refused to believe that he is dead.
“I just don’t believe in it,” said a man who laid carnations in front of a spontaneous memorial at the Wagner Center, a sprawling, modern complex in St. Petersburg. The man, who walked with a limp, said he had served with Wagner until three weeks ago and that Mr. Prigozhin had been his direct commander, but refused to give his name to Western media.
The controversy over Mr. Prigozhin’s death may loom over Russian history for decades, said Aleksei A. Venediktov, who headed the liberal Echo of Moscow radio station before the Kremlin shut it down last year.
“Who killed Kennedy?” he asked rhetorically in his office in an interview last week. “Look, this comparison is really important, because there are many versions out there in the public domain besides the official version.”
Valeriya Safronova contributed reporting from Vienna, Austria, Jesus Jiménez from New York, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Milana Mazaeva from Washington, and Oleg Matsnev from Berlin.