Disappeared, dismissed, dead: fate of top Russian generals after Wagner mutiny

By Caravanserai and AFP

Gen. Sergei Surovikin (left), commander of Russia's military operation in Ukraine, and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (centre) are seen during a visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) to the joint staff of troops involved in Russia's military operation in Ukraine in an undisclosed place on December 17. [Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik/AFP]

Gen. Sergei Surovikin (left), commander of Russia's military operation in Ukraine, and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (centre) are seen during a visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) to the joint staff of troops involved in Russia's military operation in Ukraine in an undisclosed place on December 17. [Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik/AFP]

MOSCOW -- More than two weeks after an aborted mutiny in Russia, there is still significant uncertainty surrounding the Wagner mercenary group and Moscow's top military brass.

Here are three top generals whose fates have been mired in rumour and controversy since the rebellion.

Disappearance of Gen. Surovikin

Nicknamed "General Armageddon" for his ruthless tactics, Russian army Gen. Sergei Surovikin has been one of the leading commanders of Russia's military offensive in Ukraine.

The 56-year-old head of Russia's Aerospace Forces is a veteran of the second Chechen war and was a top commander behind Russia's intervention in Syria. He is also nicknamed the "Butcher of Aleppo".

Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov in 2022. [Russian Ministry of Defence]

Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov in 2022. [Russian Ministry of Defence]

Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsokov at a Kremlin event in 2021. [Kremlin]

Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsokov at a Kremlin event in 2021. [Kremlin]

Surovikin is believed to be close to Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has praised him in public as Russia's most competent military commander.

"Surovikin is a legendary person; he was born to faithfully serve the Motherland," Prigozhin said in October 2022.

Surovikin has disappeared from public view since Wagner's short-lived mutiny sent shock waves across Russia last month.

He was last seen when he urged the Wagner chief to call off his men in a highly unusual video appeal.

"I urge you to stop," Surovikin, unshaven and scowling, said in a message posted on Telegram June 23. "The enemy is just waiting for the internal political situation to worsen in our country."

The New York Times, citing US intelligence, reported that Surovikin had advance knowledge of Prigozhin's plans and might have been detained.

The Kremlin has dismissed the report but uncertainty surrounding the general's fate persists.

Andrei Kartapolov, head of the State Duma Defence Committee, said on social media Wednesday (July 12): "Surovikin is currently resting. [He is] not available for now."

One former US official likened Surovikin's Telegram message to "a hostage video", saying his body language suggested he was uncomfortable denouncing his former ally, The New York Times reported June 27.

Dismissal of Gen. Popov

Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov, commander of Russia's 58th Combined Arms Army stationed in southern Ukraine, said in a highly unusual audio message that he had been dismissed after drawing the military leadership's attention to numerous problems.

"I had no right to lie; therefore, I outlined all the problematic issues that exist today in the army in terms of combat work and support," Popov said in the audio, released Wednesday by Andrei Gurulyov, a retired Russian colonel general and Duma deputy.

It was not clear when Popov had recorded the message.

He pointed to "the lack of counter-battery combat, the absence of artillery reconnaissance stations and the mass deaths and injuries" among Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

He said Russia's top commanders betrayed the troops.

"We were hit from the rear by our senior commander, treacherously and vilely decapitating the army at the most difficult and tense moment," the 48-year-old said, without naming any names.

The 58th Combined Arms Army has been engaged in fighting in the southeastern Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia.

The Grey Zone Telegram channel, which is believed to have links to Wagner and is followed by half a million subscribers, reported that Popov had been dismissed after he briefed Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of Russia's armed forces.

Gerasimov, the Telegram channel said, has accused Popov of "disinformation and alarmism".

Russia's influential Rybar Telegram channel, which is followed by 1.2 million subscribers, said that Popov enjoys huge support among soldiers but anyone speaking out about problems -- especially after the Wagner rebellion -- is considered an "enemy".

"The conflict between Popov and Gerasimov highlights the main thing: the lack of unity in the Russian armed forces," said the account.

Death of Gen. Tsokov

Was Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsokov killed Monday by a Ukrainian strike on a hotel in the Russian-occupied port of Berdyansk in southeastern Ukraine?

"It was known for some time that the enemy's military leadership was living there," Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to Mariupol's Ukrainian mayor now operating outside the Russian-held city, said on the Telegram messaging app.

While the Defence Ministry in Moscow has remained silent, Russian state television and pro-Kremlin military bloggers say the 51-year-old deputy commander of the Southern Military District was killed as a result of a Kyiv attack using UK-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

The Defence Ministry had given no official announcement that Tsokov had been promoted from his role as commander of the 144th Motorised Infantry Division in eastern Ukraine, to deputy commander of Russia's Southern Military District this year, according to the BBC.

The military district has a far larger remit, including areas of southern Russia and occupied areas of Ukraine. The ministry has either been slow to detail changes in command or it has simply avoided announcing them altogether, the outlet said.

Gurulyov, the Duma deputy, also confirmed Tsokov's death on a state-run political talk show that aired Tuesday evening, saying he "died a heroic death".

Since the start of Russia's offensive in Ukraine in February 2022, more than a dozen generals and senior military figures have been killed in action.

Reports of Tsokov's death sparked a new wave of criticism.

"It is sad to say it, but the quality of enemy intelligence is superior to ours," remarked one Telegram channel, Zapiski Veterana (Notes of a Veteran).

The Rybar Telegram account criticised the top brass in Moscow over perceived inaction, saying the West helped Ukraine identify important Russian targets using satellites in space and "informers on the ground".

"Everyone knows about it, everyone is aware, but no measures are being taken," said Rybar.

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Oh, what news! It turns out the Russian army is so invincible its own generals fall before the battle begins. What a brilliant example of the art of war. It seems Tsokov didn't suspect his hotel could be a target for a Ukrainian missile. Or did the Defence Ministry forget to notify him of the increased risk? How does the Russian Defence Ministry understand its responsibility anyway? Didn't they "have time" to announce their leadership shuffle? Or was it an "intentional" lapse? It's probably hard to keep all these little developments in mind when you're busy occupying someone else's territory. But the most funny thing is Gurulev saying, "he died a heroic death." Yeah, sure... After the Ukrainians struck the hotel. Exceptional heroism! One needs tons of courage to die in their bed. I am scared to imagine what will happen if they start fighting for real. Huh, is it what they call an army? It's simply a joke!


Surovikin used to have a nickname of honour - General Armageddon. Now he is just Army Condom ))


Well, our Great Military Leadership seems to have turned into a "Missing in Action Club." Surovikin is being searched for throughout the country as a public security threat. Some saw him in a Telegram video where he looked like he was playing a main character in a horror movie. But where are all of our other heroes? Even Dostoevsky would have failed to think up this kind of script. Who knew not only would Wagner become our national pride but also a harbinger of our military fate? I would be remiss, my dear friends, if I didn't mention this unparalleled success, so to speak, "material for thought."


A plot, a mutiny, a coup, and Maidan.