A top Russian general who went missing after the mercenary group Wagner’s insurrection in June has been fired from his role as head of the country’s aerospace forces, Russian state media reported Wednesday citing unnamed sources.
Gen. Sergey Surovikin has spent four decades as part of the Russian military, including a brief stint running Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.
He was put in charge of the conflict in October 2022, shortly after a major explosion severely damaged the Kerch bridge connecting the annexed Crimean Peninsula to mainland Russia. Surovikin was removed from that post just months later.
He has not been seen in public since June, when he released a video pleading for Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin to stop his insurrection. A Russian lawmaker said in July that Surovikin is “resting.”
Documents shared with CNN in June suggested that Surovikin was a secret VIP member of Wagner. The New York Times reported in June that Surovikin may have had advanced knowledge of the rebellion, prompting widespread speculation about his role the mutiny.
The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that Sorovikin was replaced by one of his deputies, Col. Gen. Viktor Afzalov, the former chief of the general staff of the Aerospace Forces.
Surovikin’s ouster comes about a month after another senior general, Ivan Popov, was removed from his post after accusing Moscow’s Defense Ministry leadership of betraying his troops by not providing sufficient support.
Surovikin’s military career began with service in Afghanistan in the 1980s before commanding a unit in the Second Chechen War in 2004. But he first earned notoriety in 1991, during the coup attempt by hardliners against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Surovikin, then a captain, led the unit that was responsible for killing three demonstrators in Moscow who had set up street barricades to protest the coup attempt and defend the Russian White House, where opponents of the coup – led by Boris Yeltsin, the recently elected president of the Russian republic within the USSR – had gathered. One of the slain demonstrators was crushed under an armored vehicle, and the two others were shot.
The coup failed and the Soviet Union collapsed. But a case against Surovikin was eventually swept under the carpet, and the officer continued his military career.
He was named the commander-in-chief of the Aerospace Forces of Russia in 2017, the position he was reportedly removed from on Wednesday.
As the head of the aerospace forces, Surovikin oversaw the Kremlin’s campaign in Syria, during which Russian combat aircraft were accused of causing widespread devastation in rebel-held areas. While Surovikin was rewarded in Moscow for his service in Syria, Human Rights Watch alleged that Surovikin may have been responsible for attacks that violated the laws of war and killed at least 1,600 civilians.
The brutality of those alleged attacks earned Surovikin the nickname “General Armageddon.” One of his former subordinates, Gleb Irisov, told CNN last year that Surovikin was disliked because of the way he tried to implement his infantry experience into the air force
“He made a lot of people very angry – they hated him,” Irisov said.
Speculation has swirled in Russia about the fate of Surovikin following Wagner’s march on Moscow. On June 23, the day Wagner forces launched their mutiny, Surovikin issued his video appeal to Wagner boss Prigozhin, appearing unshaven and without rank insignia. The Kremlin declined to comment on his situation.
The Russian government’s decision not to take any immediate retaliatory action against Prigozhin also mystified observers. Wagner forces shot down Russian military aircraft during their march on Moscow, and Prigozhin remained at large for weeks until he was apparently killed in a plane crash in Russia’s Tver region on Wednesday.
The news of Surovikin’s removal was initially reported by prominent Russian journalist and former chief of the now-closed Echo of Moscow radio station, Alexey Venediktov.
The Venediktov posted on his Telegram channel on Tuesday that Surovikin had been dismissed from his post but would continue serving the Ministry of Defense in another capacity.
According to sources cited by Russia’s business news outlet RBC, Surovikin’s removal from his post is due to his transfer to a different role, and he is currently on a short vacation.
Surovikin’s official bio on the Russian Defense Ministry’s website still lists him as the head of the aerospace forces.
CNN has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment.
CNN’s Joshua Berlinger contributed to this report.