A high-ranking Russian general had previous knowledge of Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellion plans before he led the mercenary army’s attempted coup over the weekend, a report said.
American intelligence officials told the New York Times they are probing whether or not Gen. Sergei Surovikin, Russia’s former senior general in Ukraine, had conspired with Prigozhin over last week’s mutiny — the biggest threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin since 2000.
Surovikin was replaced in January after just three months on the job by Russia’s top military officer — the chief of the military’s General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov.
During his time in charge, he humiliatingly withdrew from Kherson in November. His demotion signaled Putin wasn’t impressed with his leadership, although he reportedly maintains popularity among the troops.
There is evidence that other Russian generals dissatisfied with the Ministry of Defense may have been in on Prigozhin’s rebellion, which he claims he waged in order to oust defense minister Sergei Shoigu, whom he accused of ordering the bombing of Wagner camps in Ukraine.
If Surovikin and others worked with Wagner in the small but significant uprising, it’s indicative of an even wider fracture among Russian generals and Putin and his two top military commanders, Gerasimov and Shoigu, according to the New York Times.
Putin, officials told the paper, must now decide how to respond to Surovikin’s potential subversion.
The Russian president reportedly doesn’t like to shake up personnel. However, officials said if he finds or believes that Surovikin assisted Prigozhin, he would likely be removed from command — which would be beneficial to Ukraine.
Senior American officials told the paper that an alliance between Surovikin and Prigozhin could hint at why Putin’s former chief has been allowed to live in exile, despite leading armed troops towards the capital.
Officials who agreed to speak anonymously with The Times emphasized that much of US intelligence at this time is still preliminary, and US leaders have been unwilling to comment on the rebellion out of fear of feeding into Putin’s narrative that it was caused by the West.
Surovikin was among those who publicly called on Wagner to stop and resolve the situation peacefully as Prigozhin stormed back across the Ukrainian border into Russia.
“I urge you to stop. The enemy is waiting for our internal political situation to escalate. We must not play in the enemy’s favor in this difficult time,” he said at the time, according to Tass.
But one former official likened his message to “a hostage video,” one official told The Times.
Intelligence officials have said there were other signs that a number of Russia’s top military officials may have been informed of Wagner’s plans — or at least sympathized with their grievances.
Ahead of Prigozhin’s capture of the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, Lt. Gen. Vladimir Alekseyev posted a video online condemning Wagner’s rebellion a “stab in the back of the country and president.” However, just hours later, he surfaced in another video speaking with Prigozhin in the city.
“There were just too many weird things that happened that, in my mind, suggest there was collusion that we have not figured out yet,” Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, told the paper in a phone interview.
“Think of how easy it was to take Rostov,” McFaul said. “There are armed guards everywhere in Russia, and suddenly, there’s no one around to do anything?”
Independent experts, and U.S. and allied officials told The Times they believe Prigozhin seemed to believe massive numbers of Russia’s army would rally to his side as he headed for Moscow, which never materialized.
He was stopped about 120 miles south of Moscow, and has since been exiled to close Russia ally Belarus.
Source: New York Post