Russia’s Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov and General Sergei Surovikin, the deputy commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, have disappeared from public view following a failed mercenary mutiny aimed at overthrowing the top brass.
The mutiny, led by mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, demanded the handover of Gerasimov. Unconfirmed reports suggest that at least one person has been arrested in connection with the incident.
General Gerasimov, who is also the commander of Russia’s war in Ukraine, has not made any public appearances or appeared on state television since the mutiny. Nor has he been mentioned in any defense ministry press releases since June 9. General Surovikin, known as “General Armageddon” for his aggressive tactics in the Syrian conflict, is also absent from public view.
According to a report by The New York Times, based on a U.S. intelligence briefing, General Surovikin had prior knowledge of the mutiny, and Russian authorities are investigating his possible involvement. The Kremlin, however, downplayed the report, dismissing it as speculation and gossip.
While it remains unclear whether General Surovikin has been arrested or is undergoing screening for his reliability, some sources, including the Russian-language version of the Moscow Times and a military blogger, have reported his arrest. Several military correspondents with large followings in Russia have also claimed that senior officers are being questioned by the FSB security service to assess their loyalty.
The situation has led to speculation that a purge is underway within the Russian Armed Forces, aimed at identifying and removing military personnel deemed lacking in decisiveness during the mutiny. This alleged purge could potentially impact Russia’s conduct of the war in Ukraine and create internal turmoil at a time when Moscow is trying to counter a Ukrainian counteroffensive. It could also solidify the positions of other senior military and security figures considered loyal.
Amid the unfolding events, some Russian and Western military and political analysts believe that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who was targeted by Prigozhin along with Gerasimov due to alleged incompetence, may now be safer in his position. On the other hand, General Viktor Zolotov, head of the National Guard and a former bodyguard of President Putin, seems to have benefited from the situation.
Zolotov has publicly declared his readiness to defend Moscow from Wagner, the private military company involved in the mutiny, and has expressed interest in obtaining heavy weaponry and tanks for his forces.
The absence of General Gerasimov during President Putin’s recent address, where he thanked the army for averting a civil war, and the mysterious circumstances surrounding General Surovikin’s appearance in a video pleading with Prigozhin to halt the mutiny have raised questions and speculation. Some observers have noted discrepancies in the video, such as Surovikin not wearing his insignia or rank tabs, leading to doubts about his situation.
Reports in the Russian media and from bloggers suggest that General Surovikin may be held at Moscow’s Lefortovo detention facility following his alleged arrest. Journalist Alexei Venediktov, known for his connections, stated that Surovikin had not been in contact with his family since the incident, and his bodyguards had also gone silent.
Surovikin had previously received praise from Prigozhin, who had criticized Defense Minister Shoigu and General Gerasimov for their alleged incompetence in the Ukraine war. Surovikin, respected for his experience in Chechnya and Syria, had been regarded by Western military analysts as a capable commander and was occasionally mentioned as a potential future defense minister by Russian war correspondents.
The reported removal of General Surovikin, if true, could have a more destabilizing effect on Russia’s war effort than the failed mutiny itself, especially if other associates of Prigozhin and Surovikin face purges. Some experts believe that Surovikin’s absence could significantly impact Russia’s military operations, considering his effectiveness as a commander, despite his controversial reputation.