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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Nicholas Cecil

‘Arrested’ Putin general linked to Wagner boss not seen in public for 11 days, says UK

A senior Russian general with links to the Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has not been seen in public for 11 days amid reports he has been arrested, British defence chiefs said on Wednesday.

They stressed that despite his “brutal reputation,” General Sergei Surovikin is “one of the more respected senior officers” in Vladimir Putin’s army.

While they could not confirm that he had been detained, they emphasised that if he had it would be a “divisive” move within the Russian military.

In its latest intelligence update, the Ministry of Defence in London stressed: “General Sergei Surovikin, Commander-in-Chief Russian Aerospace Forces and deputy commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, has not been seen in public since the 23-24 June 2023 Wagner Group mutiny.

“Meanwhile, Deputy Defence Minister Colonel General Yunus-bek Yevkurov was notably absent from a televised appearance by the Ministry of Defence’s leadership on 03 July 2023.

“Reports of Surovikin’s arrest cannot be confirmed, but authorities will likely be suspicious of his long association with Wagner dating back to his service in Syria from 2017.

“Similarly, Yevkurov was filmed talking to Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin during the group’s uncontested take-over of Rostov-on-Don.”

The briefing explained further: “Although largely known in the West by his brutal reputation, Surovikin is one of the more respected senior officers within the Russian military; any official sanction against him is likely to be divisive.

“The suspicion that has potentially fallen on senior serving officers highlights how Prigozhin’s abortive insurrection has worsened existing fault lines within Russia’s national security community.”

Britain, the US and Ukraine are fighting an information war against Russia so their briefings need to be treated with caution, and could aim to sow division within Russian military ranks.

However, they are far more believable than the propaganda issued by the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky issued a chilling warning that Putin may be planning to blow up Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant which Russian troops captured earlier in the war.

“Now we have information from our intelligence that the Russian military has placed objects resembling explosives on the roof of several power units of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” he messaged.

“Perhaps to simulate an attack on the plant. Perhaps they have some other scenario.”

He also stressed that Putin may be encouraged to unleash such an Armageddon attack on a nuclear plant after his forces allegedly blew up a massive Soviet-era dam in Ukraine.

“Unfortunately, there was no timely and large-scale response to the terrorist attack on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant,” he emphasised.

“And this may incite the Kremlin to commit new evil. It is the responsibility of everyone in the world to stop it, no one can stand aside, as radiation affects everyone.”

Ukrainian forces have been gradually recapturing territory in eastern Ukraine, with more fighting around the town of Bakhmut over who has the momentum there.

Overall, Kyiv’s counter-offensive has been slower than expected by many military experts.

But the Washington-based think tank, The Institute for The Study of War, stressed: “Ukrainian forces appear to be focusing on creating an asymmetrical attrition gradient that conserves Ukrainian manpower at the cost of a slower rate of territorial gains, while gradually wearing down Russian manpower and equipment.

“The current pace of Ukrainian operations is not indicative of a stalemate or evidence that Ukraine cannot retake large areas.”

Russia's Kursk and Belgorod regions came under fire from Ukrainian forces across the border in the early hours of Wednesday, the regions' governors said, reporting that at least one person was wounded.

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