How General Armageddon built his career – and his wife’s fortune – on a mountain of corpses
Published by The Daily Mail (13th October, 2022)
He has served the Kremlin in five wars around the world, leaving behind a trail of blood, crushed cities and destroyed lives while earning himself the chilling nickname of ‘General Armageddon’.
Now Vladimir Putin has handed Sergei Surovikin full command of Russia’s war in Ukraine, entrusting him with saving the dictator’s beleaguered presidency by salvaging this disastrous military campaign.
And sure enough, on Monday, two days after Surovikin’s appointment, missiles rained down across Ukraine to strike energy, heating and transport infrastructure in at least 20 cities and towns, killing 19 people.
In Kyiv, attacked for the first time since June, they hit parks, playgrounds and rush-hour commuters in cars that exploded in flames.
The next day – Surovikin’s 56th birthday – Putin rang to congratulate him. They discussed the callous assault that the dictator said was reprisal for the explosion at the weekend that wrecked his beloved Kerch Bridge linking Russia to Crimea.
Surovikin is adored by Russian hardliners. He is hated by human rights groups. He is accused of horrifying atrocities, including ties to the use of nerve gas in Syria.
And, as he has risen to the pinnacle of Russia’s military over three decades, shrugging off two bouts of imprisonment and leaving a string of strange deaths in his wake, he and his wife Anna have become astonishingly wealthy.
His modus operandi is to deluge cities with missiles – as seen in the hideous destruction of the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Idlib. ‘He was always a strong proponent of massive missile strikes on civilian infrastructure,’ according to Ukrainian defence expert Olesksandr V Danylyuk. ‘He doesn’t care at all about human life.’
Certainly General Armageddon’s rise to the top has been built on a mountain of corpses.
Surovikin, who was born in the Siberian capital of Novosibirsk, first gained notoriety in the 1991 coup attempt by Soviet hardliners to thwart democracy. His unit caused the only deaths among protesters who had gathered in Moscow to protect elected president Boris Yeltsin.
Then a young major, he spent six months in prison before charges were dropped.
Four years later, Surovikin was jailed again, for the illegal sale of firearms. Despite being found guilty on three charges, he was let off with just one year of probation rather than the maximum eight years in prison. Even this conviction was later overturned.
In another curious incident, the military – notorious for its corruption – lost most of the contents of a massive arms dump under his control in Siberia when it burned down. Twelve generals were reprimanded but he escaped censure because he was on holiday.
Such controversy has stuck to this ‘Hero of Russia’ like the blossoming ribbon bar on his uniform – with three strange incidents in 2005 alone that might have derailed most military careers.
A colonel accused Surovikin of beating him up in a political row. One month later, another colonel committed suicide after a vicious dressing down by Surovikin.
Then soldiers under his command committed war crimes by beating Chechens, burning down houses and killing an elderly man, leading to a £1.7million compensation payout.
Later, there were claims he threatened to kill a prominent journalist and liberal MP – an ally of opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny – who was investigating Surovikin’s wife Anna’s thriving business activities. She owns several plush apartments and, reportedly, a plot of land in an expensive Moscow suburb near ultra-rich oligarchs.
The most disturbing insight into Surovikin’s disregard for civilian lives, however, occurred amid the bloodbath of the Second Chechen War in 2005. Nine of his soldiers were killed after entering a house and coming under a hail of gunfire that made the walls collapse – although local media claimed several were drunk and someone had fired a grenade launcher.
Surovikin, then a major general, pledged revenge. He vowed to kill three of the enemy for each lost life and a few days later, boasted to journalists that 24 ‘bandits’ had been killed and eight detained.
The rising star of Russia’s military then complained about the legal constraints that stopped them ‘working as efficiently as we could’.
He gave an example of soldiers shooting at a car containing a woman and child alongside a militant. He said it was unsurprising that ‘talented and honest officers serving in Chechnya develop the so-called Ulman syndrome’.
A chilling statement. Eduard Ulman was an army captain sentenced in absentia to 14 years in jail for shooting six civilians, including a pregnant woman, then burning a car containing their corpses to cover his tracks. He fled rather than face trial for war crimes.
Surovikin is a veteran of wars in Afghanistan and Tajikistan as well as Chechnya, but it in was Syria that he reinforced his reputation for cruelty and ruthlessness.
‘He’s a brutal, calculated leader,’ said Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, who said Surovikin’s command coincided with nerve agent attack that killed 90 civilians and injured 500.
A Human Rights Watch report identified Surovikin as one of the key military figures ‘indiscriminately’ striking ‘homes, markets, schools, and healthcare facilities’ using incendiary weapons, barrel bombs and cluster munitions.
Will we now see such carnage in Ukraine?
‘Surovikin has no sentiments,’ one source close to the Kremlin told a Russian journalist. It is no surprise that his fans include Ramzan Kadyrov, the brutal Chechen warlord who has been pressing Putin to declare martial law across Russia and use tactical nuclear weapons.
Former jailbird Yevgeny Prigozhin, Surovikin’s billionaire friend, who heads the Wagner Group of Kremlin-linked mercenaries repeatedly accused of atrocities and plundering, hails Surovikin as Russia’s ‘most competent commander’.
Indeed, there have been suggestions in Ukraine that Kadyrov, Prigozhin and Surovikin are a ‘junta’ that has taken control of the war.
Other analysts speculate that Surovikin has been set up as a fall guy, noting that Putin claimed his appointment was made by the under-fire defence minister Sergei Shoigu.
Yuri Butusov, a Ukrainian military journalist insists that the appointment will not lead to a ‘strengthening of the quality of management of Russian troops’.
Let us hope he is right – and General Armageddon fails to inflict the doomsday his nickname implies.