Putin sacks top commander General 'Armageddon' Surovikin

General Sergei Surovikin

General Sergei Surovikin

Gen. Sergei Surovikin, a former commander of Russia’s forces in Ukraine has been dismissed from his job as chief of the air force, according to Russian state media.

The report Wednesday came after weeks of uncertainty about his fate following the short-lived uprising.

Surovikin has not been seen in public since the Wagner mercenaries marched toward Moscow in June, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin.

In a video released during the uprising, Surovikin urged Prigozhin’s men to pull back.

During his long absence, Russian media have speculated about Surovikin´s whereabouts, with some claiming he had been detained due to his purported close ties to Prigozhin.

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, citing an anonymous source, reported that Surovikin has been replaced as commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces by Col. Gen. Viktor Afzalov, who is currently head of the main staff of the air force.

The agency frequently represents the official position of the Kremlin through reports citing anonymous officials in Russia´s defense and security establishment.

The Russian government has not commented on the report.

Nicknamed “General Armageddon” for his ruthless methods, Sergei Surovikin was one of the leading commanders of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.

His good relations with the discredited Wagner mercenary group and its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin proved to be his downfall after Wagner staged a rebellion in June and tried to topple Russia’s military command.

The 56-year-old — a veteran of Moscow’s wars starting with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — had long been seen as Wagner’s friend in the defence ministry.

When Surovikin was named commander of Russia’s forces in Ukraine in October 2022, Prigozhin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov warmly welcomed the news.

In May, when Prigozhin furiously accused Russian military leaders of failing to provide him with sufficient ammunition, Surovikin was officially named as an intermediary between Wagner and the army.

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Burning tensions between Wagner and the defence ministry came to a head on the night of June 23 to 24, when Prigozhin called for the toppling of Russia’s military command and sent an armoured column towards Moscow.

Surovikin then made a highly unusual video appeal.

Unshaven, scowling and with one hand resting on his right thigh, he slowly enunciated a call for Prigozhin to stop.

“We are one blood. We are fighters. I urge you to stop,” he said in military uniform, staring down the camera.

“Before it’s too late, you have to obey the will and orders of the elected president of Russia. Stop the armoured columns, return to your bases and settle any problems peacefully,” he said.

Less than 24 hours later, Prigozhin turned his forces back and agreed a deal with the Kremlin to be exiled to Belarus.

But Surovikin made no further public appearances.

Surovikin’s time commanding Moscow’s forces in Ukraine was tumultuous and short-lived — after just three months in the role he was replaced by chief of staff Valery Gerasimov, a nomination seen as a victory for the military’s top brass against Prigozhin.

Under Surovikin’s orders, Russian troops retreated from the city of Kherson on the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine.

It was a clear defeat for Moscow, although the delicate operation was carried out without any heavy losses on the Russian side and no other territory was given up.

The general was also behind Moscow’s campaign of bombarding Ukrainian energy infrastructure, which failed in its aim of crippling Ukraine during the winter.

After being replaced by Gerasimov, Surovikin remained a top military commander and his tough reputation endured.

The ‘Syrian butcher’

The Siberian-born general is also a veteran of the second Chechen war and was a top commander behind Russia’s intervention in Syria, earning him the nickname of the “Syrian butcher”.

Human Rights Watch in 2020 named him as one of the military leaders responsible for attacks on residential areas, including schools and hospitals.

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