Surovikin could use Prigozhin blindly

June 30, 2023

The former Commander of the Russian troops in Ukraine, General Sergey Surovykin, is most likely arrested.

Could he really stand behind the mutiny of the Wagner PMC leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, or is he just a "scapegoat"? talked about this with the co-director of foreign policy and international security programmes of Razumkov Centre, first assistant to the Minister of Defence of Ukraine in 2005–2008, military expert Oleksiy Melnyk:

— None of the versions can be ruled out. If we make an assessment based on the fact that Surovikin fell out of the media space, then, frankly, I don’t remember him to be a very active media person. His only interview that attracted attention was released when he reported on the "difficult decision to leave Kherson." It convinced everyone that Surovikin should not appear on TV. He is not a speaker, he didn’t even succeed in reading the text with a prompter.

Regarding the fact that Surovikin did not try to be kind of public person, this is quite typical of the Russian military. This is such an element of culture: you should be silent, follow orders, "snap a salute", quietly do your business somewhere, falling within your area of responsibility or related to some personal interests, which, in my opinion, Surovikin was doing.

His obvious sympathies and connections with Prigozhin have now played a disservice, if the reports about his arrest are true. I do not think that Surovikin could seriously support the rebellion. One should understand the psychology of a Russian military man, who has a rank, a status, prospects for some kind of career growth and pension. Such a person is unlikely to ever take risks. If, figuratively speaking, we put some ideas of "saving Russia" and selfish interests on the scales, the selfish interests will always outweigh.

"White" officers who shot themselves or risked their lives for an idea are over. Surovikin could be one of the interested persons, maybe push something, but only fading into the woodwork. Surovikin could use Prigozhin blindly against his rivals.

I tried to understand why Prigozhin back-pedalled at some point. I think that one of the reasons was that one of the key actors or partners on whom he relied stopped answering his phone calls. Someone gave certain promises to Prigogine or made it clear that he would actively support him, but at a critical moment, roughly speaking, cut all ties. This may have been the pivotal moment that played a key role in the sudden end of the march.

— Who do you think could stand behind Prigogine?

— Surovikin could be just an instigator, but in no case was he going to "rule". I say once again that in the system of values of today's Russian generals, selfish interests always prevail over some lofty ideas.

Why can Surovikin suffer now? Again, it does not matter if there will be evidence of his involvement in the preparation or late reporting or not. Now, firstly, as you rightly indicated in your question, they will need to find "scapegoats". And secondly, those who have an opportunity to do away with their rivals or offenders will try to use this opportunity now.

— Will such a conspiracy and possible purges affect the Russian top brass and the occupying army, their morale, motivation?

— We can now observe only certain signs, symptoms. It is difficult to predict how quickly this critical mass will accumulate.

Something happened that could hurt Putin the most: everyone saw that Akela missed. He missed in making such a rebellion possible, he missed in how he acted during this very serious internal political crisis.

I've been following Russian discussions, what "Z-patriots", representatives of different factions, even people with some kind of anti-war sentiments think. This is the rare case when they all expressed almost a unanimous opinion: "Putin is a lame duck." In cinematic language, "Akela missed."

As a result of these events, the political elite may no longer see him as their protector. Putin is no longer seen as a guarantor of internal stability, as a guarantor of their way of life, even if seriously curtailed by sanctions and isolation.

The military began to murmur. What happened with the downing of Russian planes, the punishment of those pilots who refused to strike at the columns where civilians could have been injured, the story with the border guards — all this cannot pass without a trace.

Any commander is now placed in a situation of ambiguity: it is impossible to carry out an order, and it is impossible not to fulfil it. This rust corrodes what the army stands on: subordination and unconditional execution of orders.

Speaking about the crews that will now be sent to carry out such orders: they will probably think about the fate of the pilots of Il-22 or the helicopters that were shot down — the state decided to forgive this crime. Their death turned out to be vain, no matter what Putin says, it cannot but affect the morale of the military.


Oleksiy Melnyk

Co-Director, Foreign Relations and International Security Programmes, Coordinator of International Projects

Born in 1962 in Khmelnytsty Rgn


Royal College of Defence Studies, London, UK (2007)

Air Field Operations Officer School, Biloxy, MS, US (2001)

Squadron Officer School, Montgomery, AL, US (1994)

Defence Language Institute, San Antonio, TX, US (1994)

Chernihiv Higher Military Air Force Academy, Ukraine (1984)


1980 – 2001 — Air Force Active Service (Cadet, Instructor Pilot, Flight Commander, Squadron Commander, Deputy Air Force Base Commander, Participant of two UN peacekeeping operations, Lt.Colonel (Ret)

2001 – 2004 — Razumkov Centre

2004 – 2005 — State Company Ukroboronservice

2005 – 2008 — Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, Head Organisational and Analytical Division — First Assistant to Minister of Defence

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