Was ‘General Armageddon’ In On Russian Mutiny?

“General Armageddon” might’ve been invited to Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny.

According to US intelligence, Sergei Surovikin, the Russian commander who earned his dubious nickname while perpetrating a ruthless campaign in Syria during the Kremlin’s intervention to restore the Bashar al-Assad regime, likely knew of Prigozhin’s plot to force out Vladimir Putin’s two top-ranking military officials last weekend.

It’s possible, the US believes, that Surovikin assisted Prigozhin. The intelligence was originally reported by The New York Times.

If this is even half true, it’s a big deal. Surovikin isn’t a household name in the West, but he’s a significant figure in the Russian military. When Ukrainian forces partially collapsed a portion of Putin’s treasured Kerch Strait Bridge in October, Surovikin was appointed commander of the war. He got right to work running the Syria playbook. In the weeks that followed, Surovikin targeted Ukraine’s energy infrastructure with an unrelenting aerial bombardment. Kyiv described the campaign as indicative of the general’s inclination to terrorist tactics. Surovikin also withdrew Russian troops from Kherson, a decision outside observers generally viewed as prudent.

Putin awarded Surovikin the Order of St. George during New Year’s events (in Rostov-on-Don, amusingly), but nevertheless replaced him at the helm of the Ukraine operation with Valery Gerasimov who, along with Sergei Shoigu, Prigozhin blamed for mismanaging the war. Gerasimov is, among other things, the longest-serving post-USSR chief of general staff. Some suggested Surovikin was replaced because he was consolidating power at the expense of Gerasimov and Shoigu.

Prigozhin praised Surovikin as highly competent and the two shared a penchant for bloodlust and brutality. Surovikin publicly asked Prigozhin to “stop” the rebellion as it began, but as the Times noted, citing a former official, his “body language suggested he was uncomfortable denouncing [Prigozhin], who shared his view of the Russian military leadership.” (To be fair, Surovikin’s body language always looks uncomfortable.)

The theory (and for now that’s all it is) is straightforward. Prigozhin and Surovikin, frustrated at their inability to usurp Gerasimov and Shoigu figuratively, planned to usurp them literally. Russia’s only military successes in Ukraine are generally attributable to Prigozhin and Surovikin. At wits’ end with two men they viewed as ineffective (on a good day), they agreed on a plot to compel a leadership shuffle, ostensibly for the purposes of turning the war effort around. It’s possible Surovikin didn’t show up when and where he was supposed to, leaving Prigozhin in the lurch.

Surovikin isn’t the only Russian commander suspected of complicity in the plot. Prigozhin of course met with two of Shoigu’s subordinates in Rostov-on-Don during the early stages of the would-be rebellion, one of whom derided Prigozhin’s actions just hours previous, just as Surovikin did.

A few days ago, I wrote, of Prigozhin’s coup, that “It was possible he believed he could win over Shoigu’s subordinates” and that it was likewise “possible Western intelligence agencies suspected a push from Prigozhin could be a tipping point for a military frustrated by a war that plainly isn’t going well.” The Surovikin story backs that assessment.

I also wondered about the arrest warrant for Prigozhin. It was dropped as part of the deal brokered by Alexander Lukashenko, but it was active for the duration of the mutiny. “That it wasn’t executed at any point spoke to something, but it wasn’t entirely clear what,” I said, adding that “the very fact that Prigozhin lived to turn his troops around was a testament to more than just Wagner’s effectiveness on the battlefield and the group’s years of service to Putin.”

The Times had an answer for the two questions I implicitly posed. “Senior American officials suggest that an alliance between Surovikin and Prigozhin could explain why Prigozhin is still alive,” Julian Barnes, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt wrote, on the way to noting that the US has an interest in pushing this narrative. Again: Surovikin is competent and ruthless. If Putin is compelled to remove him (whatever “remove” might mean in this context), that’d be a boon to Ukraine at a critical juncture in the war.

For Putin, the idea of a rebellious “General Armageddon” isn’t the most comforting prospect. Between them, Prigozhin and Surovikin make for a ghastly pair. Certainly not the type of men you’d want as enemies and, I’d note, not the type you’d want presiding over a vast collection of nuclear weapons either.

In a terse response to the Times‘s reporting, Dmitri Peskov called the story “speculation” and “gossip.” He didn’t deny it outright.


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5 thoughts on “Was ‘General Armageddon’ In On Russian Mutiny?

  1. Sounds entirely plausible.

    I still think Shoigu should be very careful about what he eats and not walk near any unnecessary ledges.

    If I were an oligarch, I would want not just wealth, but also the freedom to use my wealth- so that I could take my yacht to the south of France, where I could get the finest of whatever I desired, including the finest food and the best champagne! I think the oligarchs actually are quite upset that they missed 2022/23 ski season at their chalets in Courchevel 1850- and they have no intention of missing the 2023/24 social ski season!!

    Nuclear armageddon will not get them what they most desire- which is to be able to take what isn’t theirs and then, to go spend that wealth in the most exclusive and luxurious corners of the world.

    This is a modern day version of a turf war and the don is about to get removed because, as H has said, he has failed at one of his most important jobs.

  2. So this could have been a multiple opportunity mission; probe (gain intel on Putin’s actions under threat etc…) being an important goal.

  3. The US took steps to freeze Wagner assets after the “failed coup”, not before. The Russians meanwhile targeted a cafe/restaurant/hotel frequented by western personnel, not something they did often (target westerners) since the start of the war. The casualties, except the two poor dead Ukrainian teenagers, were not named in the press so far as I can gather. There is a lot we do not know.

  4. Reports Surovikin has disappeared from sight and Shoigu has re-emerged. Positive for Ukraine, Wagner off the field and Russia’s most effective commander sidelined. The US intelligence was likely leaked for a purpose.

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