The mastermind of Russia's treacherous defenses in Ukraine appears to be in a kind of faraway 'exile' as the line is being breached

  • Russian Army Gen. Sergey Surovikin appears to be in Algeria, according to recent photos.

  • Surovikin is the mastermind of Russia's formidable defensive lines and fortifications in Ukraine.

  • War experts say he may have been tasked him with overseeing Wagner Group activity in Africa.

Russian Army Gen. Sergey Surovikin is credited as the architect of Russia's formidable defensive network in Ukraine. But as Kyiv's forces break through these elaborate fortifications, the mastermind behind them is nowhere near the action.

Surovikin, who served at one point as Russia's overall theater commander in Ukraine, was detained in the fallout of the Wagner Group's late-June mutiny over his ties to the mercenary organization. After several weeks, during which his whereabouts were largely unknown, Surovikin was finally released earlier this month — his military career suspected of being largely finished.

But according to recent photographs shared by Russia-affiliated accounts to social media platforms, Surovikin appeared to be somewhere in Algeria as of last week, experts and observers noted. Algeria has maintained close economic and security ties with Moscow for decades and is a major purchaser of Russian arms.

"Surovikin is in an exile — of sorts. Yet not. Algeria is a top client for Russian exports, and critically — has hundreds of tanks and kits/spare parts," Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher who focuses on Russian security issues at the California-based RAND Corporation think tank, wrote on X, the social media platform formally known as Twitter.

The comments came in response to an earlier post with several photos appearing to show Surovikin.

Experts at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based think tank, noted Surovikin's apparent presence in Algeria as part of a Friday assessment of Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine. The experts cited several additional photographs of Surovikin purportedly in Algeria, which were published to Telegram by Russian sources.

Insider was unable to independently verify any of the recent photographs of Surovikin shared to X and Telegram.

According to the ISW assessment, Surovikin had previously been tasked with a leadership role within Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which consists of Russia and several former Soviet states. ISW experts noted in an analysis earlier this month the move "is consistent with previous patterns of the Russian military leadership shifting disgraced and ineffective commanders to peripheral positions far removed from Ukraine without discharging them from the Russian military entirely."

After the Wagner Group's short-lived uprising — and the more recent confirmed death of its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin — Russia has moved to assume more oversight of the mercenaries' activity in Africa, where they had long acted as shadowy extensions of Moscow's foreign policy apparatus. Surovikin's new role, and his recent appearance in Algeria, appear to be a reflection of this.

Russia's defense ministry "continues efforts to assume control over the Wagner Group's operations in North Africa and may have assigned" Surovikin to the job, the ISW experts wrote in their Friday analysis. They cited Kommersant, a Russian news outlet, in reporting that a source close to Surovikin asserted that the trip to Algeria could be connected to his "possible appointment to oversee unspecified operations in Africa."

Commander of Russia's Aerospace Forces Sergei Surovikin, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov and Head of the Main Operational Directorate of the Armed Forces' General Staff Sergei Rudskoi attend a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, November 3, 2021.

"Surovikin may be involved in Russian efforts to subsume Wagner operations due to his affiliation with Wagner and his command experience, although it is unclear if the Russian MoD intends for Surovikin to assume direct command of these efforts," the ISW experts wrote in their analysis.

Thousands of miles away from Algeria, in Ukraine, Kyiv's troops have been fighting to get past Russia's tough defensive fortifications known as the Surovikin Line — named after the fearsome general, who was known by supporters as "General Armageddon." When Surovikin was Russia's overall theater commander last fall, he oversaw efforts to construct an elaborate system of defensive fortifications and obstacles that stretch and intertwine across Moscow-occupied territory in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Although the Surovikin Line consists of multiple lines that connect, there is a definitive main defensive line that is preceded by minefields and includes three layers of obstacles and fighting positions: anti-vehicle ditches to prevent armor from advancing, a row of dragon's teeth to further stop vehicles, and trenches manned with Russian soldiers.

One direction of the Ukrainian counteroffensive — in the southern Zaporizhzhia region — has found notable momentum in recent weeks, as Kyiv's forces have been pushing against the main part of the Surovikin Line there and making territorial gains in the process.

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