Moscow | Gen Sergei Surovikin, a former commander of Russia's forces in Ukraine who was linked to the leader of an armed rebellion, has been dismissed from his job as chief of the air force, according to Russian state media. The report Wednesday came after weeks of uncertainty about his fate following the short-lived uprising.
Surovikin has not been seen in public since armed rebels marched toward Moscow in June, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the Wagner mercenary group. In a video released during the uprising, Surovikin urged Prigozhin's men to pull back.
During his long absence, Russian media have speculated about Surovikin's whereabouts, with some claiming he had been detained due to his purported close ties to Prigozhin.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, citing an anonymous source, reported that Surovikin has been replaced as commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces by Col Gen Viktor Afzalov, who is currently head of the main staff of the air force.
The agency frequently represents the official position of the Kremlin through reports citing anonymous officials in Russia's defense and security establishment.
The Russian government has not commented on the report, and The Associated Press was not able to confirm it independently.
Russian daily newspaper RBC wrote that Surovikin is being transferred to a new job and is now on vacation.
Alexei Venediktov, the former head of the now-closed radio station Ekho Moskvy, and Ksenia Sobchak, the daughter of a Putin-linked politician, both wrote on social media Tuesday that Surovikin had been removed.
In late June, Surovikin's daughter told the Russian social media channel Baza that her father had not been arrested.
The Wagner uprising posed the most serious challenge to President Vladimir Putin's 23-year rule and reports circulated that Surovikin had known about it in advance.
According to Sobchak, Surovikin was removed from his post Aug 18, “by a closed decree. The family still has no contact with him.” Surovikin was dubbed “General Armageddon” for his brutal military campaign in Syria and led Russia's operations in Ukraine between October 2022 and January 2023. Under his command, Russian forces unleashed regular missile barrages on Ukrainian cities, significantly damaging civilian infrastructure and disrupting heating, electricity and water supplies.
Both Surovikin and Prigozhin were both active in Syria, where Russian forces have fought to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad's government since 2015.
Surovikin was replaced as commander in Russia's war in Ukraine by Chief of General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, following Russia's withdrawal from the southern city of Kherson amid a swift counteroffensive by Kyiv's troops, but the air force general continued to serve under Gerasimov as a deputy commander.
Prigozhin had spoken positively of Surovikin while criticising Russia's military brass, and suggested he should be appointed General Staff chief to replace Gerasimov.