The key players in last weekend’s armed rebellion by Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin:
Prigozhin, 62, owed his position and his fortune to links with President Vladimir Putin. The former convict who became a St. Petersburg restaurateur was dubbed “Putin’s chef” for lucrative Kremlin catering contracts. He expanded into other areas and founded the Wagner Group — a private military contractor that was active in Syria and several African countries.
The Kremlin relied on Wagner to help shore up its forces in Ukraine after the regular military suffered humiliating setbacks there. Wagner spearheaded attacks on the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and captured it after a long and bloody battle, during which Prigozhin complained of not enough Defense Ministry support.
Prigozhin launched his rebellion after the Defense Ministry demanded that all private contractors come under its authority by July 1, a move that would make him lose control over Wagner. He declared a “march of justice” to oust Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov.
The 68-year-old defense minister is the longest-serving member of Putin’s Cabinet. He began his government career under Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, serving as the minister for emergency situations since 1994.
After becoming defense minister in 2012, Shoigu presided over bolstering military arsenals and expanding the number of volunteer contract soldiers. He helped engineer Russia’s military intervention in Syria that shored up President Bashar Assad’s rule and the illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
After Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Shoigu faced criticism for military setbacks, including a botched attempt to capture Kyiv early on and a chaotic retreat from broad areas in the east and south amid a Ukrainian counteroffensive. Some commentators also blamed him for failing to contain the armed rebellion last weekend soon enough.
A career soldier, the 67-year-old Gerasimov became Russia’s chief of the General Staff in 2012. He began his military service as a tank platoon commander in 1977, rising steadily through the Soviet and then Russian ranks.
He was praised for boosting the armed forces’ capabilities and oversaw the deployment of more mobile and combat-ready forces. Some Russian military bloggers held Gerasimov responsible for blunders in Ukraine, but Putin in January put him directly in charge of all forces there.
Since last weekend’s rebellion, Gerasimov hasn’t been seen in public.
The 56-year-old Surovikin, who has longtime links to Prigozhin, was nicknamed “General Armageddon” by Western media for his brutal tactics leading Russian forces in Syria.
In Ukraine, he was credited with shoring up Russian defenses after the retreat from broad areas last fall amid a swift counteroffensive by Kyiv. While Prigozhin assailed top military leaders, he repeatedly praised Surovikin and suggested naming him to replace Gerasimov.
Surovikin hasn’t been seen since the rebellion began when he posted a video urging an end to it, and he is believed to be detained.
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