Russia’s General Surovikin dismissed as head of aerospace forces: Reports

Surovikin, former commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, has not been seen in public since the mutiny by Wagner mercenaries in June.

Commander of Russia's Aerospace Forces Sergei Surovikin, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov and Head of the Main Operational Directorate of the Armed Forces' General Staff Sergei Rudskoi attend a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, November 3, 2021. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Pool via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
The reported former commander of Russia's Aerospace Forces Sergei Surovikin, centre, with Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov, left, and Head of the Main Operational Directorate of the Armed Forces General Staff Sergei Rudskoi, right, in November 2021 [File: Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/pool via Reuters]

Russian General Sergei Surovikin, who at one time was commander of Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine, has been dismissed as head of the country’s aerospace forces, a prominent journalist in Russia and media outlets have reported.

Alexei Venediktov, the well-connected former editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) radio station, said on his Telegram channel on Tuesday that Surovikin had been removed, citing an official decree. Surovikin will remain in the defence ministry after his deposition, Venediktov said.

The decree has not yet been made public but several nationalist Russian military blogs also reported on Surovikin’s replacement.

Surovikin was commander-in-chief of Russian units in Ukraine from October 2022 to January 2023. He was the commander who ordered the withdrawal of Russian troops from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson in November 2022.

There was no official confirmation of Venediktov’s report, though the Russian-language RBC media outlet later on Tuesday also reported that Surovikin has been dismissed, citing its own sources.

“Army General Sergei Surovikin has been relieved of his post in connection with the transition to another job and is at the disposal of (the Ministry of Defence),” RBC said.

One of the paper’s sources said Surovikin “is currently on short-term leave”.

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported on Wednesday that Surovikin was replaced by a Russian Air Force commander.

“Ex-chief of the Russian Air and Space Forces Sergei Surovikin has now been relieved of his post, while Colonel-General Viktor Afzalov, head of the Main Staff of the Air Force, is temporarily acting as commander-in-chief of the Air Force,” RIA Novosti reported, citing an unnamed source.

Surovikin has not been seen in public since the short-lived mutiny in June by the Wagner mercenary group and its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, against Russia’s defence establishment.

Surovikin was considered one of Prigozhin’s most important allies in the regular Russian army and in the Wagner chief’s power struggle with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

During the mutiny, Surovikin appeared in a video urging Prigozhin to stand down. However, following the Wagner incident, Russian and foreign news reports said that Surovikin was being investigated for possible complicity in the revolt.

The Washington, DC-based think tank The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said on Tuesday that Russian military bloggers claimed the latest news on Surovikin’s fate was neither new, nor a surprise.

“Surovikin’s alleged dismissal is not new and does not change anything because Russian authorities removed Surovikin from power immediately after Prigozhin’s June 24 rebellion,” the bloggers said, according to ISW.

Surovikin earned the nickname “General Armageddon” during Russia’s military intervention in Syria’s civil war.

In October, he was placed in charge of Russian military operations in Ukraine but, in January, that role was handed to Gerasimov and Surovikin was made his deputy.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies