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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Mystery surrounds top Russian generals after Wagner mutiny

More than two weeks after an aborted mutiny in Russia, there is still significant uncertainty surrounding the Wagner mercenary group and Moscow’s top military brass.

Here are three top generals whose fates have been mired in rumour and controversy since the rebellion.

Disappearance of General Surovikin

Nicknamed “General Armageddon” for his ruthless tactics, Sergei Surovikin has been one of the leading commanders of Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine.

The 56-year-old head of Russia’s aerospace forces is also a veteran of the second Chechen war and was a top commander behind Russia’s intervention in Syria. He is also nicknamed the “Syrian butcher”.

Army General Surovikin is believed to be close to Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has praised him in public as Russia’s most competent military commander.

“Surovikin is a legendary person, he was born to faithfully serve the Motherland,” Prigozhin said of Surovikin in October, 2022.

Surovikin has disappeared from public view since Wagner’s short-lived mutiny sent shock waves across Russia last month.

He was last seen when he urged the Wagner chief to call off his men in a highly unusual video appeal.

Unshaven and scowling, he urged Prigozhin to stop.

The New York Times, citing US intelligence, reported that Surovikin had advance knowledge of Prigozhin’s plans and might have been detained.

The Kremlin has dismissed the report but uncertainty surrounding the general’s fate persists.

This week Andrei Kartapolov, the head of the defence affairs committee in the Russian parliament’s lower house, said that Surovikin is “resting now, he is not available at the moment.”

Dismissal of General Popov

Ivan Popov, the commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army stationed in southern Ukraine, said in a highly unusual audio message this week that he had been dismissed after drawing the military leadership’s attention to numerous problems.

“I had no right to lie,” Major General Popov said in the audio, pointing to “the mass deaths and injuries” among Russian soldiers in Ukraine and the absence of artillery reconnaissance stations.

He said Russia’s top commanders betrayed the troops.

“We were hit from the rear by our senior commander, treacherously and vilely decapitating the army at the most difficult and tense moment,” the 48-year-old said, without naming any names.

The 58th Combined Arms Army has been engaged in fighting in the southeastern Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia.

The Grey Zone Telegram channel, which is believed to have links to Wagner and is followed by half a million subscribers, reported that Popov had been dismissed after he briefed Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of Russia’s armed forces.

Gerasimov, the Telegram channel said, has accused Popov of “disinformation and alarmism.”

Russia’s influential Rybar Telegram channel, which is followed by 1.2 million subscribers, said that Popov enjoys huge support among soldiers but anyone speaking out about problems — especially after the Wagner rebellion — is considered an “enemy.”

“The conflict between Popov and Gerasimov highlights the main thing: the lack of unity in the Russian armed forces,” said the account.

Death of General Tsokov

Was Lieutenant General Oleg Tsokov killed this week by a Ukrainian strike on a hotel in the Russian-occupied port of Berdyansk in southeastern Ukraine?

While the defence ministry in Moscow has remained silent, Russian state television and pro-Kremlin military bloggers say that the 51-year-old deputy commander of the Southern Military District was killed as a result of a Kyiv attack using UK-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

Since the start of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine in February 2022, a number of generals and senior military figures have been killed in action.

Reports of Tsokov’s death sparked a new wave of criticism.

“It is sad to say it, but the quality of enemy intelligence is superior to ours,” remarked one Telegram channel, Zapiski Veterana (Notes of a Veteran).

The Rybar Telegram account criticised the top brass in Moscow over perceived inaction, saying the West helped Ukraine identify important Russian targets using satellites in space and “informers on the ground.”

“Everyone knows about it, everyone is aware, but no measures are being taken,” said Rybar.

Agence France-Presse

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