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"Armageddon" arrested: Has Putin's purge begun?

Story by Alex Kliment

Jun 28, 2023

Top Russian General Sergey Surovikin was reportedly arrested on Wednesday

Top Russian General Sergey Surovikin was reportedly arrested on Wednesday, just hours after The New York Times cited unnamed US officials alleging that he had known in advance of Yevgeny Prigozhin's mutiny plans.

Who is this guy? Surovikin, nicknamed "General Armageddon," is a hardliner's hardliner. 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.

More recently, as Vladimir Putin's man in Syria, he oversaw the destruction of Aleppo and the use of chemical weapons. He briefly ran Putin's war in Ukraine last year – focusing in particular on the late-fall destruction of the country's energy infrastructure – before being demoted to the head of the Air Force, a move that looked like a bid to keep him from getting too powerful.

Related video: Putin has built an ‘apparatus that doesn’t serve him very well,’ peace expert says (NBC News)

He is, in fact, close to Prigozhin, sharing the warlord's disdain for Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, a career bureaucrat with no military experience, but acting as a link between the two men.

Surovikin was one of the first to publicly condemn Prigozhin's mutiny, and it was his own aircraft that Wagner forces shot down en route to Moscow. However, he has not been seen since.

Putin is not messing around. If the Russian leader has indeed arrested Surovikin – and to be clear, we don't know this for certain yet – 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.

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 four days – to say nothing of the past 14 months – Putin is facing a deficit of both.

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