MOSCOW (Reuters)-After a failed mercenary uprising aimed at overthrowing Russia’s top leadership, Russia’s top generals have disappeared from public view, sparking questions and speculation. President Vladimir Putin has aggressively asserted his authority in the face of reports of his possible arrest, but his arrest has yet to be confirmed.
Russia’s top general, General Valery Gerasimov, has not appeared in public or on state television since the rebellion was crushed on Saturday. A rebellion led by mercenary commander Evgeny Prigozhin demanded the extradition of Gerasimov. Moreover, no press release from the Defense Ministry since June 9 mentions Gerasimov. Gerasimov, 67, is a commander in Russia’s war in Ukraine and is said to be in possession of one of three Russian “nuclear briefcases,” according to Western military analysts.
Another notable absence is General Sergey Slovikin, dubbed “General Armageddon” by the Russian press for his aggressive tactics in the Syrian conflict. Slovikin is the deputy commander of the Russian military in Ukraine.
According to a New York Times report based on a U.S. intelligence interview, Slovikin had prior knowledge of the mutiny. Russian authorities are said to be investigating his possible involvement. The Kremlin downplayed the report, saying there would be a lot of speculation and rumors, but the Russian-language version of the Moscow Times and military bloggers reported on Slovikin’s arrest. Several other military correspondents with significant supporters in Russia claimed that he and other senior officers were being questioned about their possible role in the mutiny. However, Reuters could not independently confirm Mr Slovikin’s arrest.
A Telegram news channel called Leiber, run by a former Russian defense ministry spokesman, reported that a purge was underway. The channel suggested military personnel who showed a “lack of resolve” in suppressing the rebellion would be targeted. An armed rebellion by the private military company Wagner is believed to have provided the pretext for this sweeping purge of the Russian military.
If these reports are correct, such a purge could have serious implications for Russia’s war in Ukraine, dubbed a “special military operation.” It could also cause unrest within the military as Moscow seeks to counter Ukrainian aggression. In addition, the purge may strengthen or improve the status of other senior military and security officials deemed loyal.
The Ministry of Defense has not issued an official comment on the current situation.
As for the winners and losers in this scenario, some Russian and Western military and political analysts believe that Putin’s longtime ally, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, is now in a more stable position. Some believe that Prigogine tried to overthrow both Shoigu and Gerasimov on suspicion of incompetence. But despite the fact that they are considered incompetent and unpopular with the Russian military, their continued tenure seems assured.
Another person who could benefit from the situation is Putin’s former bodyguard and head of the National Guard, Viktor Solotov. Solotov made a public appearance and declared that his army was ready to fight “to the death” to defend Moscow against Wagner. He also mentioned the possibility of obtaining heavy weapons and armor for his army after the rebellion. Gerasimov’s absence from Putin’s recent speech thanking the military for averting the civil war drew attention. Shoigu, by contrast, has made numerous public appearances since the uprising.
Mr. Gerasimov’s deputy Mr. Slovikin was last seen on Saturday in a video appealing to Mr. Prigozhin to end the rebellion. It’s unclear if Mr. Slovikin spoke under duress, as he looked exhausted. Unconfirmed reports from Russian media and bloggers say Slovikhin is being held in Lefortovo detention center in Moscow.