Russia’s army has dismissed Sergei Surovikin, a prominent general, as head of its aerospace forces amid a crackdown on potential Wagner sympathisers following the paramilitary group’s failed mutiny in June.
State newswire RIA Novosti cited an “informed source” on Wednesday saying Surovikin had been “relieved of his post” and replaced by Viktor Afzalov, the aerospace forces’ chief of staff.
Known as “General Armageddon” for brutal bombardments under his command in Syria, Surovikin took over Russia’s invasion force last October after a series of embarrassing battlefield setbacks in Ukraine.
He was the most prominent figure among a number of senior military leaders who had good relations with Wagner’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, but he has not been seen in public since he was detained in late June.
Though Russia’s military has not explained Surovikin’s absence or said whether he remains deputy commander of its invasion forces in Ukraine, the general’s detention came in the midst of President Vladimir Putin’s post-mutiny crackdown at the top of the security services.
Hardliners who have been known to sympathise with Wagner and criticise the army’s leadership — in particular, defence minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff — have been sacked or detained after giving dire assessments of the situation at the front.
Prigozhin’s rivals, meanwhile, have appeared more frequently in public at high-level events, suggesting they continue to enjoy Putin’s patronage. Last week, Putin visited the army headquarters in Rostov for the first time since Wagner briefly seized it during the mutiny, and was given a guided tour by Gerasimov.
Under Surovikin’s command, Russia switched to defensive tactics aimed at consolidating its territorial conquests while launching devastating air strikes on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.
He lost his position to Gerasimov following an internal power struggle in January, but remained popular among hardliners who chafed at Shoigu and Gerasimov’s poor management while continuing to serve as Wagner’s effective handler.
In his last public appearance, a video released in the middle of the night as Prigozhin’s 24-hour mutiny began, a visibly distressed Surovikin cradled a machine gun as he urged Wagner to stand down.
Andrei Kartapolov, an MP and former deputy defence minister, said in July that Surovikin was “resting” and “not available right now”, without elaborating.
But after the Kremlin struck an eleventh-hour deal to stop Wagner’s march on Moscow, Prigozhin appeared to have at least partially reintegrated himself into the Russian security establishment — even as generals who shared many of his gripes with the army’s leadership fell out of favour.
The Wagner leader attended a roundtable with Putin at the Kremlin in July before the group departed for exile in Belarus, whose leader, President Alexander Lukashenko, brokered the deal to end the mutiny.
Prigozhin then appeared in a dimly lit video appearing to tell Wagner’s fighters that they had relocated to Belarus “for some time” before eventual redeployment in Africa, where the group has been hired as mercenaries in several countries.
On Monday, a Wagner-linked channel on social media app Telegram posted a video in which Prigozhin claimed he was in Africa on a mission to “make Russia even greater on all continents”.