A war has broken out between Vladimir Putin’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and Russia’s Defence Ministry after the Wagner group’s mutiny, Kyiv has said.
Andrii Chernyak, a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence, said mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s short-lived revolt over the weekend revealed the weaknesses of the Russian president.
This, he said, has sparked an ‘open war’ between the so-called ‘towers’ of the Kremlin – headed by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov – and that ‘liquidation’ of each other’s officials was likely.
The Defence Ministry and the FSB headquarters are located just 3 miles away from each other in Moscow’s city centre.
Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s intelligence directorate, added that Prigozhin is also in the FSB’s crosshairs.
‘We are aware that the FSB was charged with a task to assassinate him. Will they be successful in doing that? We’ll see with time.’
It appears there has already been one high-profile casualty of the failed rebellion in the form of Russia’s ‘General Armageddon’ Sergei Surovikin, who is believed to have been detained days after mercenaries staged their revolt.
He has not been heard from since Saturday when he appeared in a video calling for an end to the mutiny.
It is thought that the deputy commander of the Russian forces fighting in Ukraine is being held in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo prison after US officials claimed he had supported Prigozhin’s march on the capital, and is being interrogated.
Reports that Surovikin had ties to Wagner appeared to be confirmed overnight when a Russian investigative group Dossier Centre claimed it had found documents showing that he was a secret VIP member of the Wagner group.
An intelligence official from Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence said mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s short-lived revolt has sparked an ‘open war’ between the so-called ‘towers’ of the Kremlin – headed by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) and FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov (R)
A Prigozhin ally, General Sergei Surovikin is believed to have been detained days after mercenaries staged their revolt. He has not been heard from since Saturday
The Russian Defence Ministry building in Moscow, Russia, 26 June 2023
Cars drive past the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in central Moscow, Russia
The Defence Ministry and the FSB headquarters are located just 3 miles away from each other in Moscow’s city centre
Alexei Venediktov, former head of the Ekho Moskvy, a prominent independent radio station that was shut down by authorities after Moscow invaded Ukraine, said Surovikin and his close lieutenants have not been in contact with their families for three days, but stopped short of saying that he was detained.
Another prominent military messaging channel, Rybar, which is run by a former defence ministry press officer, reported a purge in the ranks was underway as authorities looked into allegations that some could have sided with Prigozhin.
Surovikin has been linked to Prigozhin since both were active in Syria, where Russia has waged a military action since 2015 to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and to help him reclaim territory after a devastating civil war.
Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that US officials believed that Surovikin had advance knowledge about the mutiny. Asked about that report, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov shrugged it off as part of ‘speculation and gossip’.
On Thursday, Peskov refused to comment on whether Surovikin had been arrested.
Asked by the Associated Press if the president still trusts Surovikin, he replied that Putin works with the defence minister and the chief of the general staff and referred questions about officers to the Defence Ministry. He also referred all other questions about Surovikin and his status to the ministry.
Surovikin, who was nicknamed ‘General Armageddon’ by Western media for his brutal tactics in Syria and Ukraine, was credited with shoring up Russian defences after Moscow’s retreat from broad areas of Ukrainian territory last autumn amid a swift counter-offensive by Kyiv.
But in January, Putin replaced him with General Valery Gerasimov, putting the general staff chief in charge of the Russian battle in Ukraine. Surovikin was demoted to the position of Gerasimov’s deputy.
Gerasimov’s own fate also is unclear after the abortive mutiny. While Shoigu showed up at several events attended by Putin, Gerasimov was absent.
Former US Vice President Mike Pence declared that it was an ‘open question’ whether the Russian president has full command of his military amid reports of internal war in Russia’s defence structures following Wagner’s rebellion.
If a purge is indeed under way, it could destabilise the military chain of command and erode troop morale even further – something the Russian army cannot afford as further incidents of mutiny and desertion on the frontlines continue to emerge.
A new video shows disgruntled soldiers – convicts freed from jail to fight – who now fear being shot by Putin’s counterintelligence officers for vowing not to go back to the ‘meat grinder’ frontline.
Andrii Chernyak, a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence, said mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s short-lived revolt over the weekend revealed the weaknesses of the Russian president. This, he said, has sparked an ‘open war’ between the so-called ‘towers’ of the Kremlin – headed by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov – and that ‘liquidation’ of each other’s officials was likely.
The ex-convicts – seen in Priyutny, Zaporizhzhia region – went public amid reports that Putin’s forces are using the Stalinist tactic of shooting those who refuse to fight
The men say their comrades were decimated by Ukraine’s forces, losing 128 out of around 150 in a Storm brigade, according to one report.
One of the mutinying Russian fighters said in a video sent to their wives: ‘They came to us and said: ‘Boys, you have to go back to the front line’.
‘Again into the meat grinder, where we have already been. We will not return from there.
‘We refuse to go further, to carry out combat missions. We surrender to the war police.
‘If one of us dies, it means that we did not die on the front line, we were simply killed [for refusing to fight].
‘If any one of us now dies… he was simply shot dead by his own side.’
The ex-convicts – seen in Priyutny, Zaporizhzhia region – went public amid reports that Putin’s forces are using the Stalinist tactic of shooting those who refuse to fight.
They were part of an estimated 70,000 prisoners – including rapists and murderers – released by Putin in his effort to invade Ukraine.
‘We are the remnants of a Storm brigade,’ said the man chosen as their spokesman on the video. ‘There were once 150 of us… Now there appear to be fewer than 30.
‘These are the only men remaining after fierce battles,’ he said.
‘Today we were brought back from the front line to these apartments. This is where an FSB colonel threatens the mobilised, who refuse [to fight]… We were not supplied with ammunition, nor water or food.
‘The wounded were not taken out. The war dead are rotting there, no-one removes them. Terrible orders are issued [by commanders]…
‘We believe that we are simply being killed…’
As Russian army units refuse to fight in Ukraine, it appears that volunteer fighters are continuing to sign up with the Wagner group, in spite of Shoigu’s recent decree that all volunteers must sign contracts with the Russian military.
Reports from BBC News Russia and Meduza suggested that Wagner group recruitment hotlines remained open as of today, with Russians continuing to sign private contracts with the group in defiance of Shoigu and the Russian defence ministry.
Meanwhile in Moscow, Russian secret services feared there were plans to blow up Vladimir Putin as his motorcade crossed a major bridge, it was reported.
Vladimir Putin on 29 June 2023 during visit to the World Trade Centre in Moscow, Russia
Putin visited Russia’s World Trade Center in Moscow yesterday
This screenshot from a security video shows vessels combing the river close to Novoarbatsky Bridge amid rumours of a planned assassination attempt on Putin
The Federal Protection Service [FSO] was tipped off about a barge suspected to be planting explosives on the floor of the Moscow River, according to VChK-OGPU Telegram channel.
The bridge was not named but is on a route used by Putin’s motorcade moving to and from the Kremlin from his out-of-city official residence. It came as Putin visited Russia’s World Trade Center yesterday.
Video shows security service vessels evidently combing the river close to Novoarbatsky Bridge. Divers were reported to have been in the murky waters.
‘The FSO was checking information about the preparation of an assassination attempt on Putin with the help of explosives at the bottom of the Moskva River, laid down from a barge,’ said the report by VChK-OGPU, seen as having law enforcement contacts.
‘A duty officer of the Federal Security Service reported a suspicious barge under the bridge.’
The barge was ordered to move ‘due to the movement of motorcades over the bridge’.
Immediately afterwards ‘divers began to examine the bottom of the river.’
There was no information on whether explosives were found, nor any suggestion as to who might have planned any assassination bid on the Russian president.