Since the aborted mutiny led by Yevgeny Prigozhin over the weekend June 23-24, the blogosphere was aflame with rumors about the fate of “Putin’s Chef,” the members of his PMC and, now, the fate of Russia’s senior military leaders.

It began with a single Telegram report that Gen. Sergey Surovikin, the deputy commander of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine may have supported Prigozhin’s aborted mutiny. The story was expanded later, saying that he had been arrested along with his deputy, Col.-Gen. Andriy Yudin and both were being held in the Lefortovo pre-trial detention center. The rumor was rapidly picked up and confirmed by the Russian-language version of the Moscow Times as well as Russian (and Ukrainian) social media.

Alexei Venediktov, a well-connected journalist, said that Surovikin and his bodyguards had not been seen or heard from since Saturday, June 25. Surovikin, “General Armageddon” as his troops called him after his performance in Chechnya and Syria, had earlier been tipped to be a future Russian defense minister.


Is a purge underway?

On Thursday, June 29 the rumors were fueled further by a number of Russia’s most senior generals disappearing from view. This may well have been nothing more sinister than a collective decision to “keep their heads down” hoping that the furor over the weekend activities would burn itself out. However, reports on Russian social media which have permeated into the international media claim that not only is Surovikin under investigation, but a wider purge may be underway. 

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The “disappeared” includes not only Prigozhin himself, who may or may not be in Belarus, but also Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s Chief of the General Staff who has not been seen in public or mentioned by the Kremlin media since June 9. Gerasimov, who was appointed to head Russian operations in Ukraine in January, was one of those Prigozhin had demanded should be removed.


On Wednesday, June 28, the Kremlin dismissed the reports of Surovikin’s arrest, saying that it was just speculation and gossip. This was derided by a number of Russian milbloggers, including the Rybar Telegram channel run by a former Russian defense ministry press officer, who all said a purge was underway. 

The blog posts said the authorities were trying to weed out leaders who were aware of or involved in the mutiny as well as those who failed to put down the mutiny.

Rybar claimed: "The armed insurgency by the Wagner private military company has become a pretext for a massive purge in the ranks of the Russian Armed Forces." There has currently been no official comment by the Kremlin defense ministry. 

If there is a purge and if it involves both Gerasimov and Surovikin, who are currently running Russia’s war against Ukraine, it could have a dramatic impact on Putin’s special military operation, just as Kyiv ramps up its summer counteroffensive. 

A widespread house-cleaning exercise, such as is being suggested, would also be an opportunity for some of those senior figures, considered to be loyal, to reinforce their positions or to advance up the ranks.


Who might benefit (and who may not)?

Many were surprised to see Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu being involved in a high-profile visit to the front line, attending a security committee meeting and other events in the last few days, with apparently nothing having changed for him.

Michael Kofman, a Russia expert from the Carnegie Endowment think tank, wrote on Twitter; “I think he (Prigozhin) actually expected something would be done about Shoigu (and Gerasimov), that Putin would rule in his favor.”

“Instead, his mutiny may have ensured his continued tenure, despite being universally derided for his incompetence, and widely detested in the Russian Federation's armed forces.”

Viktor Zolotov, head of the National Guard who is a former presidential bodyguard is also marked for promotion after announcing he was ready to "stand to the death" to defend Moscow from Wagner.

There is also much chatter about the National Guard being up gunned with heavy weaponry, artillery and tanks.

The US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) believes that the Kremlin is attempting to balance a desire to mitigate the current “widespread disdain” for the military establishment that fueled Wagner’s rebellion, while also trying to deal with those who sympathized with the mutiny.


ISW had previously assessed that the Kremlin would signal support of Shoigu by keeping him in his post but feel that Gerasimov’s role in Ukraine operations may be reduced but remain as Chief of the General Staff - although that may be in name only.

ISW assesses that removing Gerasimov totally would reflect badly on Putin and the defense ministry’s own competence and decision-making. Russian sources are speculating that the Wagner rebellion is already having widespread impacts on the Russian military command structure, the Institute for the Study of War has said in its latest analysis of the conflict in Ukraine. 

The Rybar milblogger claims Gerasimov will be replaced by the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) commander Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky as the theater commander in Ukraine.

Another Russian source claimed that an “atmosphere of suspicion has enveloped the General Staff” and that many of Gerasimov-appointed staff have been accused of indecision and failure along with him.

ISW said their sources had largely been accurate in their previous reporting on Russian command changes but emphasized that it could not yet confirm the reports. Whatever the truth of what’s happening among the ranks of the Russian military, it can only be good news for Kyiv and its forces while undermining the morale of already hard-pressed occupying forces in Ukraine.

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