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Top Russian army general Sergei Surovikin has been detained as the Kremlin cracks down on Wagner sympathisers following the militia’s failed mutiny last week.

Surovikin, a senior Russian general known to have a good relationship with Wagner’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, has not been heard from for several days and has been detained, according to three people familiar with the matter.

It remains unclear whether Surovikin, the head of Russia’s air force, has been charged as a plotter in the uprising led by Prigozhin on Saturday, or simply detained for interrogation.

Vladimir Putin has begun a clean-up operation at the top of the security services, members of the Moscow elite have said, with the president moving to quash critics, restore order and re-establish his dominance after the first coup attempt in Russia in three decades.

Many of the hardliners who have been known to sympathise with Wagner and criticise the regular armed forces have disappeared from view in recent days, while loyalists — such as defence minister Sergei Shoigu, whom Prigozhin hoped to unseat in his coup — have been given a platform and have been shown in public participating in high-level meetings and events.

“Putin knew about [Prigozhin’s uprising plans] in advance, as we understand, and so could prepare to a certain extent,” a western government official said. “He was able to see who did what on that day. And he’s now cleaning house.”

The official said they believed Surovikin had been detained, adding, “we understand that there will be more people who will follow”.

Known as “General Armageddon” for his brutal bombardment tactics in Syria, Surovikin was promoted last autumn to manage Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Though swiftly demoted, he remained a favourite among the more hardline pro-war community in Russia, and this spring began acting as a curator of the Wagner paramilitary contingent fighting on the frontline in east Ukraine.

As Prigozhin’s conflict with the military establishment in Moscow escalated, Surovikin is believed to have acted as the go-between.

Once the conflict boiled over into an armed rebellion against the defence elite in Moscow late on Friday, Surovikin recorded a brief statement calling on Wagner fighters to put down their weapons. Then he disappeared.

“He’s not home. There’s no contact with him, or with his guards, or his adjutant,” one of the people familiar with the matter told the FT on Wednesday.

Veteran Russian journalist Alexei Venediktov said on Wednesday that Surovikin “has not been in touch with his family for three days. His security guards do not answer either.”

Suspicions around Surovikin may have been generated by his good relationship with Prigozhin. While the Wagner warlord railed against other generals and the defence elite — blaming them for the high death toll among Russian soldiers during the invasion and accusing them of “genocide” — he maintained a dialogue with Surovikin.

Surovikin also clashed with the defence ministry’s top brass over tactics and strategy, leading Putin to demote him from the head of the Russian invasion after just a few months on the job. Putin reappointed Valery Gerasimov instead and Russia launched a new offensive soon after.

The Kremlin on Thursday refused to answer any questions regarding Surovikin and told journalists they should ask the defence ministry instead.

On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed a New York Times report, citing US officials, about the general having been aware of the coup plot in advance. Peskov said he expected “a lot of speculation around these events”, adding: “I think this is an example of that.”

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