Residents of Kramatorsk, Ukraine, walk among debris from a Russian missile strike Residents of Kramatorsk, Ukraine, walk among debris from a Russian missile strike  (AFP or licensors)

Questions surround Russian military leadership in wake of mutiny

Several sources note that some of Russia's most senior generals have disappeared from public view after a brief mercenary mutiny aimed at toppling the top military brass in the biggest challenge to President Vladimir Putin's rule to date.

By Stefan J. Bos

The chief-of-staff of Russia’s armed forces, General Valery Gerasimov, has not appeared publicly or on state television since an aborted rebellion on Saturday, when mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin demanded Gerasimov be handed over. Gerasimov, 67, is the commander of Russia's war in Ukraine and the reported holder of one of Russia's three "nuclear briefcases."

Officials with close knowledge about the situation also say that another Russian top general, Sergei Surovikin, has been detained on charges of prior knowledge of this weekend's armed uprising.

Surovikin had well-established links to Wagner mercenary group chief Prigozhin. Yet, Kyiv has been pleased with these developments saying tensions within the top of Russia's military helped its counter-offensive against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The well-informed Moscow Times newspaper said Russian General Surovikin had been publicly seen on Saturday. It was the day that Wagner mercenary group leader Prigozhin and his troops launched a short-lived mutiny against Russia's military leaders and even marched to Moscow.

General detained?

Several officials familiar with the matter have now told the media that Surovikin was being detained. Surovikin is the head of the Russian aerospace forces and was formerly Moscow's supreme commander in Ukraine.

It was unclear whether Surovikin was charged as a plotter in the uprising led by Prigozhin on Saturday or detained for interrogation.

Both the Kremlin and Russia's defense ministry have refused to clarify the fate of Surovikin. The controversy comes as the head of the defense committee in Russia's parliament, Andrei Kartapolov, announced that Wagner forces would no longer fight in Ukraine.

Kartapolov said the mercenary group's chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, refused to sign contracts with the Kremlin.

He explained that a few days before the attempted rebellion, Russia's Ministry of Defence announced that "all [groups] that perform combat missions must sign a contract."

No contracts 

Kartapolov said Prigozhin did not sign the contracts and was therefore informed that "Wagner would not take part in a special military operation" and would no longer receive funding or material resources.

With Wagner out of the way, at least for now, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a rare public walkabout in the Russian city of Derbent. He was seen shaking hands and posing for selfies with people, which was shown on Russian state television.

But with confusion mounting over Russia's chain of command, Kyiv claims Ukrainian forces are advancing "slowly but surely" on the frontlines in the east and southeast of the country.

They also claimed progress around the longstanding flashpoint of Bakhmut, where one of the war's bloodiest battles occurred. Yet Ukraine is suffering losses too, with officials saying that the death toll in a Russian rocket attack on a packed pizza restaurant in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk has risen to 12, including four children.

Attack on civilians in Kramatorsk

Ukraine's state emergency service said scores of people were injured, some critically when two Iskander missiles slammed into the restaurant in the city center on Tuesday.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has blamed a Russian spy for enabling the attack. The Ukrainian security agency SBU says it arrested an employee of a natural gas transportation company who allegedly helped coordinate the strike and sent video footage of the cafe to Russia's military.

It provided no evidence for the claims in a war marked by propaganda on both sides since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report

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29 June 2023, 15:46