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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Russian military hit by uncertainty as one general is killed and another remains absent

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Gen. Sergei Surovikin in 2017, in a photo from Russian state media.

By Paul Sonne

One top commander has disappeared since a mutiny. Another was killed in an airstrike in Ukraine. And a third former commander was gunned down while out on a jog in what may have been an organized hit.

The ranks of the Russian military have continued to be roiled by instability in the days since a short-lived insurrection by Wagner mercenaries three weeks ago, as pressures from Moscow’s nearly 17-month war reverberate across the armed forces.

On Wednesday, mystery deepened over the fate of Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the country’s former top commander in Ukraine, who has been dubbed “General Armageddon” for his ruthless tactics, and who has not been seen since the Wagner rebellion.

One of the country’s top lawmakers said Wednesday, when pressed by a reporter, that the general was “taking a rest.”

“He is unavailable right now,” the lawmaker, Andrei Kartapolov, the head of the Russian Duma’s defense committee, added in a video posted on the Telegram messaging app before hurrying away from the reporter.

Surovikin was considered to be an ally of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary company, whose forces mounted the brief insurrection in late June aimed at toppling Russia’s military leadership before standing down in a deal with the Kremlin.

The New York Times reported that U.S. officials believe Surovikin had advance knowledge of the mutiny but do not know whether he participated. In the hours after the rebellion began, Russian authorities quickly released a video of the general calling on the Wagner fighters to stand down.

The lawmaker’s enigmatic comment about Surovkin came two days after Russian authorities released the first footage of the country’s top military officer, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, since the insurrection.

In the video, Gerasimov was receiving a report from the Russian Aerospace Forces, which are run by Surovikin. But the person giving the update in the footage was Surovikin’s deputy, Col. Gen. Viktor Afzalov.

Surovkin’s location is just one of the many mysteries that have arisen since the mutiny. Despite a deal announced by the Kremlin, under which Prigozhin would depart Russia for Belarus and avoid prosecution, the mercenary tycoon appears to have remained in Russia.

The Kremlin disclosed this week that Prigozhin and his top commanders met with President Vladimir Putin five days after the mutiny, raising many questions about what sort of deal had been struck with the former insurrectionists. On Wednesday, the Ministry of Defense said that Russian armed forces had collected more than 2,000 pieces of equipment and weaponry from Wagner.

The matériel is expected to be restored for further use. So far, the mercenary group has handed over thousands of small arms and heavy weapons, the ministry said, including rocket launch and mortar systems, anti-tank guns and multipurpose armored tractors.

Russia, meanwhile, received another blow to its top military ranks. Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsokov, the deputy commander of Russia’s Southern Military District, was killed in Ukraine during a Monday night missile strike on the occupied city of Berdiansk, one of the highest-level losses for Russia during the course of the war, Ukrainian authorities announced.

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