Russia has removed Sergei Surovikin, nicknamed “General Armageddon,” as head of the air force after he vanished from public view during a Wagner mercenary mutiny against the top army brass in June, the RIA state news agency reported on Wednesday.
A recipient of Russia’s top military award, Surovikin would be the most senior Russian military figure to lose his job over the June 23-34 mutiny, which President Vladimir Putin said could have tipped the country into civil war.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, who spearheaded the revolt, remains at liberty and on Monday posted a video address that he suggested was shot in Africa. The two men Prigozhin had wanted to topple — Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff — remain in their posts.
Reuters could not independently verify the report and there was no immediate official confirmation.
U.S. officials told Reuters in June that Surovikin had been supportive of Prigozhin, but that Western intelligence did not know with certainty whether he had helped the rebellion in any way.
Surovikin’s last public appearance was on June 24, the second and final day of the mutiny, when he appeared in what looked like a carefully stage-managed video. Visibly strained and without insignia, he urged Prigozhin to abandon his march on Moscow.
Since the mutiny, which was ended by negotiations and a Kremlin deal, some Russian news outlets and sources have said that Surovikin, who was often publicly praised by Prigozhin in the run-up to the revolt, was being investigated for possible complicity in it and being held under house arrest.
RIA’s report suggests he remains a member of the Russian military. It said nothing about his future.
Surovikin earned the nickname “General Armageddon” during Russia’s military intervention in Syria for the brutal tactics he employed there.
He was placed in charge of Russian military operations in Ukraine last October, but in January that role was handed to Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff, and Surovikin was made a deputy to Gerasimov.
3 killed in Russia’s Belgorod
Russia said on Wednesday it had thwarted the latest Ukrainian drone attack on Moscow, but three people were killed in a drone strike near the Ukrainian border.
The governor of Belgorod region, which neighbours Ukraine and has come under frequent attack, said the drone hit a sanatorium in a village. He said two people had died on the spot and doctors had been unable to save the life of the third.
The attempted attack in Moscow was not reported to have hurt anyone and only appeared to have caused minor damage. It was the latest in a surge of similar incidents, and once again forced Moscow’s airports to briefly suspend flights as a precaution.
The defence ministry said air defence forces near the capital had shot down two drones over the Moscow region’s Mozhaisky and Khimki districts.
It said a third had been jammed and lost control — but it nevertheless hit a high-rise building under construction in a Moscow business district. The same district, known as Moscow City, was hit twice in three days at the start of the month.
There was no immediate comment from Ukraine, which rarely takes direct responsibility for drone strikes on Russian territory or on areas controlled by Russia, but which appears to have stepped up such attacks since two drones were destroyed over the Kremlin in early May.