Russian authorities appear to have detained General Sergei Surovikin over his suspected connection to the Wagner Group’s mutiny last week, according to media reports.
The specific details surrounding Surovikin’s status remain blurry, but top Russian and U.S. officials have said the senior general has been detained, the Financial Times and The New York Times reported Thursday.
Questions about Surovikin’s whereabouts have been swirling for days because the general had not been seen in public since June 24, when the Wagner paramilitary group marched on Moscow. Surovikin was known to have a good relationship with Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
It is unclear whether Surovikin, the deputy commander of Russia’s invasion force in Ukraine, has been formally charged for playing a part in the rebellion or just detained for questioning.
But Moscow has not yet publicly confirmed what has happened to him.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters he could not clarify the situation about Surovikin and said reporters should contact the Defense Ministry.
Surovikin appeared in a video Saturday urging the Wagner Group to halt any moves against the army and return to their bases.
His daughter Veronika said that “everything is fine” with her father. “Honestly, no, nothing has happened to him. He’s at work,” she told the Russian news outlet Baza.
“When did he appear in the media every day? He never made any statements every day,” she said. “As I understand, everything is sort of flowing as things normally happen. Everyone is at their workplace. Everything is fine.”
Prigozhin arrived in Belarus earlier this week at the invitation of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as part of a deal to halt the mutiny.
It still is not clear where Prigozhin is in Belarus, how many fighters accompanied him or how long he plans to stay there.
Peskov told reporters Thursday that he did not have information about Prigozhin’s location.
U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin has “absolutely” been weakened inside Russia by Prigozhin’s rebellion effort.
But Biden, speaking to reporters at the White House, said it was “hard to tell” the extent to which Putin is diminished.
Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, echoed Biden’s comments when speaking with VOA’s Russian Service on Wednesday.
“On balance, Putin is much weaker today than he was just four or five days ago. Elites in Russia, soldiers in Russia, are all watching this and wondering, ‘What’s happened to our leader?’
“And I think that’s good, because a weakened Russia might do less in terms of damage, principally in Ukraine,” McFaul said.
While pledging that Prigozhin would be safe in Belarus, Putin has expressed mixed views about the Wagner Group since the rebellion. He has characterized Wagner’s leaders as traitors but said the rank-and-file mercenaries “really showed courage and heroism” in their fight against Kyiv’s forces.
Prigozhin’s arrival in Belarus came as Putin said Tuesday that Moscow had paid $1 billion between May 2022 and May 2023 to fully fund the Wagner mercenary fighters, contrary to claims by Prigozhin that he had financed his mercenaries.
Russia once denied the existence of the Wagner Group, but it has advanced Russia’s interests in several African and Middle Eastern countries.
Many of the Wagner fighters in Ukraine were convicted criminals freed from Russian prisons on the promise that if they fought in neighboring Ukraine for six months, the remaining portions of their sentences would be rescinded.
Prigozhin said earlier this year that he had always financed Wagner but had looked for additional funding after Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine.
Prigozhin said Monday that his troops’ advance on Moscow had not been an attempt to overthrow the Russian government and that he remained a patriot.
VOA’s Russian Service contributed to this report.