Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

Putin’s fear of strong generals is as old as Russia itself

By Simon Sebag Montefiore

19 Jul 2023 · 12 min read

informed Summary

  1. Russian warlord and billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin, who leads the Wagner troops, led a short-lived mutiny against Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 23, demanding the dismissal of the defense minister and the chief of staff. Putin denounced him for treason, but later received Prigozhin at a meeting with Wagner officers at the Kremlin.

On June 23, the Russian warlord, mercenary, and billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose Wagner troops had performed with brutal resilience in the war against Ukraine, led his men in a short-lived mutiny against his patron, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin seemed to be demanding the dismissal of the defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, and the chief of staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov. Putin denounced him for treason. But having seized Rostov-on-Don and marched on Moscow, Prigozhin accepted the mediation of another Putinite courtier, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Putin celebrated with a military parade in the Kremlin, attended by Shoigu, while several senior officers were dismissed for criticizing the conduct of the war. Some, apparently including his most competent fighting general, Sergey Surovikin, disappeared, possibly arrested for acquiescing in Prigozhin’s plans. At the time of writing, Shoigu and Gerasimov remain in command of the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, at a meeting with Wagner officers at the Kremlin on June 29, Putin received Prigozhin, whom he had called a traitor less than a week before. Perhaps it was a recognition that Wagner had fought so well for the motherland.

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