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Russian propagandist invents legend of “heroic pilot father who fought the Americans” for General Surovikin

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Alexander Sladkov, propagandist at Russian state-owned broadcaster VGTRK and author of the eponymous pro-war Telegram channel “Sladkov,” recently penned a biography of Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russian troops in Ukraine. He wrote that Surovikin’s supposedly heroic father, “turns out to have shot down three American planes and died in the Far East, diverting his downed plane away from residential areas.” In fact, pilot and Korean war veteran Vladimir Surovikin, who died in the Far East in 1966, has nothing to do with General Surovikin, the pilot's great-grandson Vladimir Masich told Polygon.Media journalists and the Telegram channel «We Can Explain” (Mozhem Obyasnit’).

Vladimir Surovikin did indeed divert his plane away from residential buildings following an engine failure, but did not have time to eject from the aircraft. A commemorative plaque was erected in his honor in the city of Ussuriysk. However, his great-grandson has said that Vladimir Surovikin had no sons – only a daughter. “The problem is that we [in the family] don't know who Sergei Surovikin was. Perhaps something got mixed up in the Far East. We hope that this is a mistake,” Masich said.

Masich himself opposes the war in Ukraine. “I wanted to write that I respect Ukrainians for their fortitude, but this fact has already become clear to everyone in recent days, and it will not change,” he wrote on February 27.

In fact, General Sergei Surovikin’s biography is far from heroic. In 1995, he was found guilty of several crimes: aiding and abetting, purchasing and selling, as well as carrying firearms and ammunition without proper authorization. These charges of Russia’s Criminal Code could have led to him being incarcerated for up to eight years in prison, but, as Radio Liberty notes, he received a humane punishment: a one-year suspended sentence. Independent investigative outlet Proekt wrote: “Later, when the investigation made it clear that the officer was set up, the charges were dropped, and his convictions were expunged.” Proekt reported that in March of 2004, Lieutenant Colonel Tsibizov accused Major General Surovikin of beating the division commander for political reasons. Tsibizov later withdrew his statement.

In 2014, as a troop commander in Russia’s Eastern Military District, as alleged by then-Alexei Navalny's chief of staff Leonid Volkov, Sergei Surovikin worked in the Rostov region, where he supervised the dispatch of tank units subordinate to him to southeastern Ukraine. In 2017, Putin appointed Surovikin commander of Russia’s Aerospace Forces. He was then twice sent to Syria, where he spent more than a year in total. In June 2022, reports revealed that Surovikin was commander of Russia’s Southern Group of Forces in Ukraine. Russia’s Defense Ministry then claimed that under Surovikin's leadership, multiple units had completed “the defeat of an encircled AFU group in the near Hirske.” In October, Surovikin replaced Alexander Dvornikov as commander of the combined group of Russian troops in Ukraine.

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