Wagner: Top Russian General arrested

Russia’s most competent frontline commander labelled “General Armageddon” is understood to have been arrested following the Wagner Group mutiny.

The impact of Gen Sergey Surovikin’s detention will be significant in Ukraine where his ability to mount effective defensive operations has slowed Kyiv’s counter-offensive.

The officer, who has also been labelled the “Butcher of Syria” for his ruthless campaign in 2018, has not been seen since Sunday.

Multiple Russian sources, including military bloggers, have stated that his close ties to Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin might have singled him out as a scapegoat.

Gen Surovikin’s arrest would be good news for Ukrainian troops on the battlefield as he is lauded as Russia’s most competent general. He has a track record of ruthless competence, but competence nonetheless, in both Syria and Ukraine.”

Brigadier Ben Barry, the Russia expert at the IISS think tank, said given the lack of military support for the Kremlin during the mutiny Mr Putin “has be worried about the loyalty of the generals”.

He also suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin might have “played a weak hand well” in dealing with the military and Wagner.

“But what we expect next is a range of scenarios where there’s either going to be a ruthless purge of the military or a selective one.”

The Kremlin declined to answer questions about Gen Surovikin on Thursday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov referred questions to the Defence Ministry, which has not made any statement.

Asked if Gen Surovikin still had Mr Putin’s trust, Mr Peskov said that Mr Putin, as Commander-in-Chief of Russia’s armed forces, worked with the Defence Minister and the Chief of the General Staff.

Gen Surovikin, who commanded Moscow’s successful effort in Syria, was noted for the successful withdrawal of Russian troops from the city of Kherson in November last year.

Despite his track record for conducting competent defensive operations, his close association with Mr Prigozhin might have sealed his fate.

American intelligence sources also reported that the general had advanced knowledge of Saturday’s failed putsch but it was unclear if he supported it.

During the rebellion, Gen Surovikin made a video appeal to Wagner to stand down, but this may have been done under duress.

The Institute for the Study of War think tank suggested that the arrest of Gen Surovikin and affiliates would be to use them as “scapegoats to publicly explain why the Russian military and Russian internal security apparatuses responded poorly to the rebellion and to justify a potential overhaul of the Russian military leadership”.

It added: “Surovikin is a prime candidate for a scapegoat regardless of the actual level of support he gave to the rebellion.”

The Moscow Times, an anti-Kremlin publication, has reported that two sources close to Moscow’s Defence Ministry confirmed the arrest.

A Russian military blogger on the Rybar channel said the detention was part of “large-scale purges” of officers with internal security services conducting rapid loyalty tests.

Those found to have been neutral during the mutiny will likely be removed from their post, further undermining frontline morale, bloggers said.

President Putin values loyalty above all else but the purge is likely to create even more discontent within the armed forces, already rattled by the mutiny and Ukraine advances.

“The Kremlin will likely struggle to balance between appeasing discontent with the MoD and purging it of disloyal figures without contradicting its rhetoric and actions,” the ISW stated.

“The Kremlin will almost certainly choose the effort of purging disloyal figures regardless of continued ire towards the MoD leadership.”

Military bloggers have also claimed that Russian pilots who refused to attack the Wagner armed convoys heading to Moscow will face criminal charges.

There are also unconfirmed reports that Russian military police arrested the head of Wagner’s branch in Syria, alongside three other senior mercenary commanders at the Russia-controlled Khmeimim Air Base, south-east of the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia, and visited Wagner offices in Damascus.

The Ukrainian front could be further weakened after the Kremlin has allegedly sent its internal security force, the Rosgvardia, more tanks and heavy artillery.

“The mutiny exposed the glaring weaknesses of Russia experiences is extremely vulnerable to internal militarised threats and the Rosgvardia did not put up much of a fight,” said Mr Lord.

“Every bit of air defence, every armed personnel carrier, the national guard have that’s one less at front.”

The National