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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Fired Russian general’s remarks the latest sign of disarray in military leadership

Ammunition and litter in a trench of a former Russian position in Novodarivka, in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine, on July 6, 2023. The latest sign of disarray within the Russian military emerged with the release, late on Wednesday, July 12, 2023, of a four-minute recording in which a top Russian general, fired from his post commanding troops on the critical Zaporizhzhia front, accused the military leadership of inflicting a blow on his forces at a challenging time.

By Paul Sonne and Anatoly Kurmanaev

Turmoil has engulfed the leadership ranks of the Russian military nearly three weeks after a failed mutiny, posing new distractions and risks for Moscow’s forces as they try to fend off a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

The latest sign of disarray emerged with the release late Wednesday of a four-minute recording in which a top Russian general, fired from his post commanding troops on the critical Zaporizhzhia front, accused the military leadership of inflicting a blow on his forces at a challenging time.

Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov had been commanding Russia’s 58th Combined Arms Army until he was removed in what he described as retribution for voicing the truth about battlefield problems to senior leadership behind closed doors.

“The soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine couldn’t break through our army from the front,” Popov said in farewell talk to his troops, a recording of which was released by a Russian lawmaker. “We were hit in the rear by our senior commander, who treacherously and vilely decapitated our army at the most difficult and tense moment.”

The general’s dismissal came as recriminations have reverberated through the ranks of the Russian military in the aftermath of a failed June 24 mutiny by Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner private mercenary company.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that at least 13 senior Russian officers had been detained for questioning in the days since the insurrection, with some later released, and around 15 had been suspended from duty or fired.

It was not immediately clear whether Popov’s firing was connected to the Wagner uprising, but the removal of a high-level general whose forces appeared to be performing successfully on one of the most important stretches of the front line in Ukraine left many Russian observers shocked.

“The removal of Popov is a monstrous act of terrorism against army morale,” Russian military blogger Roman Saponkov wrote on the Telegram app, saying that the failure of the Wagner uprising had emboldened the Russian military leadership to purge its ranks.

Alexander Sladkov, a war correspondent for Russian state television, said that Popov was not an insurrectionist and would most likely reappear in a different position on the front. He warned that the Russian military should be preserving every soldier and general in combat because “we have great trials ahead of us.”

The fired general’s remarks added to a picture of internal discontent with the battlefield leadership of Gen. Valery Gerasimov, who was tapped by the Kremlin in January to replace Gen. Sergei Surovikin and lead the war effort in Ukraine. Since then, Gerasimov has commanded Ukraine operations while serving simultaneously as chief of the Russian General Staff, an unconventional conflation of duties for a military at war.

Prigozhin, before leading his uprising, regularly launched public tirades against Gerasimov for incompetent leadership. He said his actions on June 24 were aimed at dethroning the general and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu — not at seizing power from President Vladimir Putin.

In the recording of his farewell speech, Popov said he had been fired after raising problems with the Russian military’s top leadership, including a lack of counter battery and artillery reconnaissance capabilities, as well as excessive deaths and injuries that Russian troops were suffering on the battlefield.

In addition to losing Popov as a commander, Russian forces fighting in the Zaporizhzhia region also saw another top general killed in recent days.

Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsokov, the deputy commander of Russia’s Southern Military District, died in a Ukrainian airstrike Tuesday on the occupied city of Berdiansk, marking one of the highest-level losses Russia has suffered on the battlefield since the start of the war.

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