Original Author: Paul Sonne, Anatoly Kurmanaev and Julian E. Barnes
A top Russian general detained in the aftermath of the mutiny by the mercenary tycoon Yevgeny V. Prigozhin has been released, according to two U.S. officials and a person close to the Russian Defense Ministry.
The general, Sergei Surovikin, who was seen as an ally of Mr. Prigozhin’s and earned the nickname “General Armageddon” for his brutal tactics in Syria, vanished from public view in June after the mercenary leader and members of his Wagner outfit moved against the Russian military leadership.
American officials say it appears that the general had advance word of the uprising, and hours after it began, the Russian authorities released a video in which an uncomfortable-looking General Surovikin is shown calling on the Wagner fighters to stand down.
U.S. officials said that while General Surovikin appeared to have been released from formal detention, it remained unclear if there were any remaining restrictions on his movement or other limits imposed by the Russian authorities.
General Surovikin was released in the days after Mr. Prigozhin died in a plane crash late last month, the person close to the Russian Defense Ministry said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, like the U.S. officials, to discuss a sensitive topic.
The general has retained his rank so far and is technically still an officer in the military, but he no longer has any career prospects, the person said. Russian state news reported last month that General Surovikin had been formally removed as head of Russia’s aerospace forces.
On Monday, General Surovikin appeared for the first time since the June mutiny in a photograph posted on social media by a news outlet run by a Russian news figure, Ksenia Sobchak. In the photo, the general appears in civilian clothes, wearing sunglasses, a hat and a button-down shirt, walking outside next to his wife in front of a wall covered in ivy. The location was not immediately clear from the photograph.
“General Sergei Surovikin is out: alive, healthy, at home with his family in Moscow,” read a post on the channel on the Telegram messaging app associated with Ms. Sobchak.
From October to January, General Surovikin was the top Russian officer in charge of operations in Ukraine. He oversaw the withdrawal of Russian forces from Kherson and the switch to a defensive strategy, which included the construction of a wall of vast defenses known as the “Surovikin line” that has hampered Ukrainian forces in their counteroffensive.
Mr. Prigozhin knew General Surovikin because Wagner fighters had served in Syria with Russian forces while he was the top commander there. The mercenary leader praised the general’s appointment last year, calling him a legendary figure and the most capable commander in the Russian military.
But in January, the Kremlin sidelined General Surovikin, installing the chief of the general staff, Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, as the commander overseeing forces in Ukraine. The change marked the beginning of a broader loss of power for Mr. Prigozhin, who soon clashed with General Gerasimov and the Russian defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, as Wagner forces suffered heavy losses trying to take the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
Those tensions ultimately led Mr. Prigozhin to launch the short-lived mutiny, which he said was aimed at removing the two Russian defense leaders, not at toppling President Vladimir V. Putin.
As speculation about General Surovikin’s whereabouts swirled in July, a top lawmaker who chairs the Russian Parliament’s defense committee told a reporter the general was “taking a rest.”
Mr. Prigozhin was killed on Aug. 23, when a private plane taking him and other Wagner leaders from Moscow to St. Petersburg crashed in the Tver region of Russia. U.S. officials have said they suspect an explosion on board the aircraft caused the crash.
The Kremlin has called Western suggestions that Mr. Putin was involved in the event an “absolute lie.”