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“Armageddon” arrested: Has Putin’s purge begun?

Commander of Russia's Aerospace Forces Sergei Surovikin

Commander of Russia's Aerospace Forces Sergei Surovikin


Top Russian General Sergey Surovikin was reportedly arrested on Wednesday, just hours after TheNew York Times cited unnamed US officials alleging that he had known in advance of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny plans. Surovikin had not been seen in public since the day of the mutiny.

Who is this guy? Surovikin (Soo-ra-VEE-kin), is a hardliner’s hardliner, with the permanent scowl and bald pate of an early Bond villain. A career military man, he was briefly jailed in the 1990s for ordering his men to gun down protesters opposed to the attempted coup against Gorbachev. His nickname is "General Armageddon", a nod to his penchant for scorched earth warfare.

As Vladimir Putin’s man in Syria, he oversaw the destruction of Aleppo and the use of chemical weapons in support of Bashar al Assad. He briefly ran Putin’s war in Ukraine last year – focusing in particular on the late-fall destruction of the country’s energy infrastructure and overseeing Russia's tactical withdrawal from Kherson – before being demoted to the head of the Air Force, a move that looked like a bid to keep him from getting too powerful.

He is close to Prigozhin, dating back at least to Wagner's operations in Syria, and he is reputed to share the warlord’s disdain for Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, a career bureaucrat with no military experience.

Still, Surovikin was one of the first to publicly condemn Prigozhin’s march to Moscow, in a video that emerged on Saturday. And it bears noting that it was his own Air Force aircraft that Wagner forces shot down en route to Moscow.

Putin is not messing around. As of this writing, Surovikin’s whereabouts are unconfirmed, but If the Russian leader has in fact arrested him, it would send a chilling signal throughout the security services: Boss Man isn’t afraid to move against some of the most powerful figures in the military as he looks to shore up his regime in the wake of Prigozhin’s mutiny

But the problem with purges, of course, is that they use paranoia to enforce loyalty, rather than boost competence. If we have learned anything over the past six days – to say nothing of the past 16 months – Putin is facing a deficit of both.


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