WAR IN EUROPE
Kremlin gives no detail on fate of ‘General Armageddon’ Sergey Surovikin after mercenary mutiny
Sergey Surovikin — who is a deputy commander of Russian forces in Ukraine — has been absent from view since Saturday, when he appeared in a video appealing to mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin to call off his mutiny.
The Kremlin declined on Thursday to give any details about the fate of Russian General Sergey Surovikin, whose status and location have not been made public since an abortive armed mutiny by mercenaries on Saturday.
Nicknamed “General Armageddon” by the Russian press for his aggressive tactics in Syria’s war, Surovikin — who is a deputy commander of Russian forces in Ukraine — has been absent from view since Saturday, when he appeared in a video appealing to mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin to call off his mutiny.
Surovikin had looked exhausted in that video and it was unclear if he was speaking under duress. There have since been unconfirmed reports that he is being questioned by the security services.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov referred questions about Surovikin to the defence ministry, which has so far made no statement about him.
Asked by reporters if the Kremlin could clarify the situation with Surovikin, Peskov said: “No, unfortunately not. So I recommend that you contact the defence ministry; this is its prerogative.”
When a reporter asked if President Vladimir Putin still trusted Surovikin, Peskov said: “He [Putin] is the supreme commander-in-chief and he works with the defence minister and with the chief of the General Staff.”
Questions about “structural units within the ministry”, Peskov said, should be addressed to the defence ministry.
The ministry did not reply to a Reuters request for clarity on the fate of Surovikin, one of Russia’s most respected generals who previously commanded Russian forces in Ukraine for several months.
Russia’s most senior generals have dropped out of public view in the wake of the mutiny aimed at toppling the top military brass, amid a drive by Putin to reassert his authority.
The mutiny, which Putin said could have tipped Russia into civil war, amounts to the biggest challenge to the Russian state since the 1991 hardline coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev as the Soviet Union crumbled.
Putin, Russia’s paramount leader since 1999, thanked the army and law enforcement agencies for preventing what he said would have been devastating turmoil of the kind last seen after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
The 70-year-old former KGB spy was shown on Wednesday visiting a mosque at the ancient, pre-Arab Naryn-Kala citadel in the Derbent fortress on the shores of the Caspian Sea, around 2,000km south of Moscow.
The Kremlin said Putin also chaired a meeting about the development of tourism in the region. Putin, pictured in sunglasses and without a tie, was shown speaking to local residents who took selfies with him.
The fate of Prigozhin, who rose to become Russia’s most powerful mercenary, remains unclear.
A private jet linked to Prigozhin flew from St Petersburg, the former imperial capital of Russia, to Moscow on Thursday, though it was unclear who was on the aircraft.
The Kremlin’s Peskov said he did not have information about Prigozhin’s current location.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said this week that he had persuaded Putin not to “wipe out” Prigozhin, adding that the mercenary chief had flown to Belarus.
Speaking about the causes of the mutiny, Colonel-General Andrei Kartapolov, an influential legislator who chairs the lower house of Parliament’s defence committee, said Prigozhin had refused to sign contracts for his mercenaries to serve under the defence ministry.
As a result, Kartapolov said, Prigozhin had been told his mercenaries would no longer fight in Ukraine and no longer receive money from the Russian state.
Putin said on Tuesday that Prigozhin, Wagner and his Concord catering company had received at least $2 billion from the Russian state over the past year. DM
Who is Russia’s ‘General Armageddon’ Surovikin, missing since mutiny?
Here are some key facts about Surovikin:
Surovikin, then commander of Russian forces in southern Ukraine, was given overall command of the Ukraine campaign on October 8 — the first to be publicly named in that role.
Russia had just been routed in the northeastern Kharkiv region. Within a month, he had ordered a withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro River in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, recognising that his forces were in danger of being cut off by the bombardment of the Antonivskyi Bridge.
The contingent, estimated by the US at 30,000, retreated in good order, blowing up the bridge behind them.
Ukraine’s defence minister and Western diplomats said Surovikin appeared to have boosted discipline while also stepping up attacks on infrastructure.
His image as a hulking Siberian willing to use brutal tactics to get results appealed to Russian nationalists, who felt he could oversee the retreat without opening up dangerous internal divisions.
Nevertheless, with the war stagnating, he was subordinated to Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov in January, staying on as one of Gerasimov’s three deputies.
After the Kherson pullout, Prigozhin, a fierce critic of Gerasimov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, praised Surovikin as “a man who is not afraid of responsibility”. A month ago, Prigozhin said Surovikin should replace Gerasimov.
When Prigozhin staged his mutiny, Surovikin was one of two generals who publicly urged him in videos to give up. However, Surovikin looked strained and awkward.
US officials told Reuters on Wednesday that Surovikin had supported Prigozhin, but that Western intelligence did not know with certainty if he had helped the rebellion in any way.
The Moscow Times and one military blogger reported Surovikin’s arrest, while some other heavily followed defence correspondents said he and other senior officers were being questioned by the FSB security service to verify their loyalty. Reuters could not independently verify those reports.
In 2017, while commanding Russia’s vast Eastern Military District, Surovikin was sent for around eight months to head forces deployed to Syria to help President Bashar al-Assad fight diverse rebel groups.
By the time he finished his assignment, the civil war had turned in Bashar’s favour and President Vladimir Putin was preparing a visit to announce a drawdown of Russian forces.
Surovikin was rewarded with the command of Russia’s Aerospace Forces and made a Hero of Russia. By 2021 he was an army general, equal in rank to Gerasimov.
While Russia denied targeting civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said Russian air strikes and often indiscriminate bombing killed 5,700 civilians in the two years to September 2017. DM