Russian General May Have Been in on Coup Attempt, US Officials Say

Russian general Sergei Surovikin (Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Kremlin via REUTERS/File Photo)
June 28, 2023

A top Russian general knew that Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was planning a coup against President Vladimir Putin and might have helped plan the coup, U.S. officials told the New York Times.

Gen. Sergei Surovikin, Russia's former top commander in Ukraine, had advance knowledge of the coup, the officials said, a sign of "the infighting that has characterized Russia's military leadership" since Putin started his war in Ukraine. And Surovikin is not the only general who might have supported the coup: "Current and former U.S. officials said Mr. Prigozhin would not have launched his uprising unless he believed that others in positions of power would come to his aid," the Times reported.

"There were just too many weird things that happened that, in my mind, suggest there was collusion that we have not figured out yet," former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told the Times.

Prigozhin announced over the weekend that the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization of mercenaries who fought some of the bloodiest battles in Ukraine, had rebelled against Putin and was marching to Moscow. Just days later, Prigozhin said he was calling off the coup after striking a deal with the Kremlin. According to the deal, the mercenary leader will move to Belarus in exchange for Moscow's promise to drop charges.

Putin now must decide "whether he believes that General Surovikin helped Mr. Prigozhin and how he should respond," according to the Times.

The Russian president has been trying to "project an image of strength and stability" following the coup, the Washington Free Beacon reported Monday. In addition to exiling Prigozhin rather than executing him, Putin has not yet ousted Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Russian media had speculated that Shoigu might be on the chopping block.

"Putin is reluctant to change people," Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center senior fellow Alexander Baunov told the Times. "But if the secret service puts files on Putin's desk and if some files implicate Surovikin, it may change."

A Kremlin spokesman offered a "curt response" to the Times's report, calling it an example of "speculations, gossip, and so on around these events." The Kremlin made no outright denial of the report.