The head of Russia’s aerospace force General Sergei Surovikin has been sacked, the state media said on Wednesday, after he disappeared from public view following a failed mutiny by the Wagner mercenary group in June.
Also read: Explained | Understanding the Wagner mutiny
Nicknamed “General Armageddon” for his ruthless methods, Mr. Surovikin had close ties with Wagner and was rumoured to have been removed after the mercenary group rebelled against Russia’s military leadership.
“Ex-chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces Sergei Surovikin has been relieved of his post,” Russia’s state-run RIA news agency quoted a source as saying.
It said that Colonel-General Viktor Afzalov, Chief of Staff of the aerospace force, would temporarily replace Mr. Surovikin in his former role.
Mr. Surovikin — a veteran of Moscow’s wars starting with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — was a leading commander in Moscow’s Ukraine offensive and had long been seen as Wagner’s ally in the Defence Ministry.
In May, when Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin furiously accused Russian military leaders of failing to provide his forces with ammunition, Mr. Surovikin was officially named as an intermediary between Wagner and the Army.
Then, on the night between June 23 and 24, after Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin called for the toppling of Russia’s military command, Mr. Surovikin made a highly unusual video appeal to the mercenary group.
Less than 24 hours later, Mr. Prigozhin had turned his forces back and agreed a deal with the Kremlin to be exiled to Belarus.
Mr. Surovikin made no public appearances afterwards, prompting furious speculation that he had been detained or removed from his post.
In July, a lawmaker and former Army officer from Russia’s ruling party said that Mr. Surovikin was “resting” and “not available”.