Putin Gets Weirdly Cosy With Russian Public As Speculation Over Missing General Grows

Russian president doesn't normally get close to anyone, never mind stand within the middle of a crowd.

Vladimir Putin has a reputation for keeping a notable distance between himself and most people he meets – but he got up close and personal with the general public in a surprising move on Wednesday.

It comes days after a failed attempted to overthrow his military from his former ally, mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, and amid speculation about the whereabouts of his top generals.

It seems that Putin’s mingling with the crowd may have been somewhat spontaneous, as the Russian state broadcaster TASS just reported that he would “hold a meeting on tourism, meet with the head of the Republic of Dagestan Sergey Melikov and take part in a number of other events”.

And it’s even stranger when you consider how Putin has famously planted high-profile guests at the opposite end of an extremely long table in the Kremlin during important meetings – and now he’s been pictured kissing the heads of the general public.

It may be part of the president’s bid to try to reassert his authority after the failed coup on the Russian military over the weekend.

Prigozhin’s armed march with his Wagner fighters on Moscow was called off after a last-minute intervention from the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko (which saw the mercenary leader exiled to Belarus) but worries about his popularity within Russia remain.

After all, his fighters supposedly took the town of Rostov-on-Don within hours of launching their attack – and met no resistance.

This seems to have shaken Putin’s reputation, with UK foreign secretary James Cleverly saying the rebellion was a sign of trouble to the authoritarian leader.

Putin also made three televised speeches within hours of each other condemning Prigozhin, without ever mentioning him by name.

Geopolitical strategist Velina Tchakarova suggested on Twitter that Putin’s appearance in this particular region was a deliberate move, because “Russia has been mobilising over-proportionally men from Chechnya and Dagestan (next to some other regions) as a preemptive step to prevent potential secessionist movements prone to radical ideas”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin kisses the head of one of the residents of Derbent.
Russian President Vladimir Putin kisses the head of one of the residents of Derbent.

Meanwhile, speculation over where the Russian general Valery Gerasimov, the armed forces chief of staff, and Sergei Surovikin, deputy commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, has spiked in the days since the rebellion.

It’s still not known, as part of the deal between Prigozhin, Lukashenko and Putin, the Kremlin agreed to fire various military leaders who upset the Wagner leader.

Gerasimov has not appeared in public or on state TV since Saturday, when Prigozhin called for him to be handed over to Wagner fighters.

He was not present on Tuesday when Putin thanked the army for dodging a civil war.

According to Reuters, he has not been mentioned in a Russian defence ministry press release since June 9.

Defence minister Sergei Shoigu was often on the receiving end of verbal attacks from Prigozhin, too. The mercenary leader accused him of incompetence and of targeting the Wagner fighters but he still seems to be in post.

The Kremlin has released footage since the rebellion apparently showing Shoigu reviewing troops in Ukraine and later meeting with the Russian president himself, along with top security, law enforcement and military officials.

However, not all generals were attacked by Prigozhin.

Surovikin – nicknamed “General Armageddon” for his aggression during past offensives in Syria – was said to have advanced knowledge of the Wagner mutiny, according to a New York Times report.

He was last seen on Saturday, when he popped up in a video calling for Prigozhin to stop the mutiny, apparently looking exhausted.

Reuters said it was “unclear if he was speaking under duress”.

US officials told Reuters on Wednesday that Surovikin supported Prigozhin, but it remains unclear if he aided the rebellion.

Russian authorities are reportedly now seeing if he was complicit in the uprising, although the Kremlin has played down such reports.

Michael Kofman, Russian military specialist at the Carnegie Endowment think tank, tweeted: “I think he (Prigozhin) actually expected something would be done about Shoigu and Gerasimov, that Putin would rule in his favour.

“Instead, his mutiny may have ensured their continued tenure, despite being universally recognised as incompetent and widely. detested in the Russian Federation’s armed forces.”


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