His whereabouts have been a question that has been asked again and again for days. The Russian deputy chief of staff Surovikin is at the center of speculation, allegedly he was arrested after the Wagner revolt. Who is the man?
In the evening, when the Wagner revolt against the Russian army leadership began, Army General Sergei Surovikin addressed the Wagner troops: “I urge you to stop this. The enemy is just waiting for the internal political situation in our country to deteriorate. It is impossible to play into the enemy’s hands at this difficult time for the country.”
Surovikin seemed exhausted at this message, and some observers even suspected he had spoken under duress. Doubts about Surovikin’s loyalty to President Vladimir Putin quickly arose. The “New York Times” reported a few days later that Surovikin knew in advance about the plans of Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Could he have been a supporter of the uprising? There were increasing reports that he had been arrested and possibly being interrogated. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the matter and advised questioners to contact the responsible Ministry of Defense.
Highly regarded by leadership for a long time
For a long time, Surovikin was in Putin’s favor. From October last year to January he was even commander of the Russian troops in Ukraine. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had entrusted him with the task of coordinating and better aligning all units involved in the so-called special military operation in Ukraine.
Ultra-nationalist ideologues like the oligarch Konstantin Malofeev initially cheered when Surovikin then had the energy infrastructure of Ukraine bombed in ever new waves of attacks. Now you can “finally see what could have happened in the first days of the war,” said the oligarch happily, who at the same time dismissed the previous warfare as “bloody children’s war games in a limited area” and explained that the Russian army had until then for some reason the gives the impression of paying more attention to Ukraine’s infrastructure than to one’s own.
A reputation earned in Syria
Surovikin had a reputation for being tough and brutal. Previously, he had commanded, among other things, Russian troops in Syria. There he is said to have been partly responsible for the bombing of Aleppo, which earned him the name “General Armageddon” in Russia.
But there were doubts about his military abilities last year. Before he was promoted to the post of commander of Russian troops in Ukraine, he was in command of Russian troops in southern Ukraine and was responsible for the withdrawal from parts of the annexed Kherson region.
The government-critical military expert Yuri Fyodorov commented at the time that Surovikin had “no particular military talents” and differed from other generals “only in increased brutality”. In the southern area, the Russian army had “no successes”, rather the opposite was the case. The troops suffered a “serious defeat” at Cherson.
Unbroken proximity to Prigozhin
Surovikin may have been displeased when he was dismissed as deputy chief of staff at the beginning of the year. However, he continued to have an advocate in Prigozhin, who insisted on continuing to work with Surovikin even when Wagner’s troops were asked to submit to the Russian Defense Ministry.
Prigozhin described Surovikin as an “intelligent, trained and experienced army commander” and that is precisely why the cooperation “demonstrated a high level of efficiency and success”.
It is possible that this proximity to Prigozhin has now become the undoing of Surovikin.