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Wagner-linked Russian general appears in Algeria

Former air force commander Sergei Surovikin seen in his first foreign visit since Wagner mutiny
General Sergei Surovikin in the Abdelhamid Ben Badis Mosque in port city of Oran, Algeria (Telegram Channel)

The Wagner-linked former commander-in-chief of Russia's air force, General Sergei Surovikin, is in Algeria, according to photos published on several Russian telegram channels on Friday. 

Surovikin was removed from his post a day before the airplane crash that killed Wagner group chief Yevgeniy Prigozhin. The two were believed to be close, and Surovikin was known to back the private army's operations in Ukraine.

In June, Prigozhin led his fighters in a short-lived mutiny against the Russian military leadership, which he had long been at odds with over disagreements on how to prosecute the war in Ukraine. Prigozhin took thousands of fighters to the outskirts of Moscow before being declared a traitor by Vladimir Putin and turning back "to avoid bloodshed".

After the failed rebellion, rumours swirled about the fate of Surovikin, who was said to have been detained. While he lost his role as the head of the Russian air force, he has maintained his rank. 

It is not known what the purpose of his visit to Algeria is. However, in at least one grainy photo, he can be seen giving a talk to an auditorium that seemingly looks official, with Algerian flags in the background and the room packed with dozens of people. 

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In a more official photo, Surovikin can be seen at the Abdelhamid Ben Badis Mosque in the port city of Oran, in western Algeria. 

The images depict Surovikin, sporting stubble and a beige jumpsuit, being shown around the mosque and presented with a Quran.

Surovikin was first seen in public for the first time since the aborted rebellion by Wagner earlier this month. 

"General Sergei Surovikin is out. Alive, healthy, at home, with his family, in Moscow," said a Telegram channel run by Ksenia Sobchak on 5 September. 

Before that, the last time Surovikin was seen in public was in a video during the mutiny urging the Wagner forces to call a halt to their action.

Russia's man for war 

Russian military blogger Sergei Kolyasnikov, speaking to a Russian website following the images from Algeria, said that if the Russian defence ministry wanted to fire Surovikin, it could. 

“My personal opinion is that this is perhaps the only person, Surovikin, who has already pulled Russia out of very difficult situations several times, including in Ukraine,” said Kolyasnikov.

In October last year, following a series of major setbacks on the battlefield in Ukraine, Russia's defence ministry named Surovikin as the overall commander of Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. 

In his short tenure managing the war in Ukraine, Surovikin has been credited with stabilising Russia’s military positions which were buckling under Ukrainian advances. 

Surovikin is a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, as well as having combat experience in both the Chechen wars in the 1990s and 2000s, establishing a notorious and ruthless reputation.

He also oversaw Russian forces in Syria on and off from 2017 to 2020. At that time, Human Rights Watch described Russian commanders like Surovikin as bearing the most responsibility for human rights violations during the 2019-2020 Idlib offensive.

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