A Russian general commanding force fighting in southern Ukraine has been relieved of his duties after speaking out about the problems his troops are facing. This move reflects new fissures in military command after a brief rebellion by the chief From the mercenaries Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Major General Ivan Popov, commander of the 58th Army in the Zaporizhzhia region, which is a focal point in the Ukrainian counteroffensive, said in an audio statement to his troops released Wednesday night that he had been ousted following a meeting with the military leadership in what he described as a “treacherous” stab in the back at Russian forces in Ukraine.

Popov said the military leadership was angered by his outspokenness in speaking about his forces’ challenges, particularly the shortage of enemy artillery tracking radars, which led to large numbers of Russian casualties.

“Apparently, the higher-ups considered me a source of threats and quickly issued an order to get rid of me, which was signed by the defense minister in a single day,” he said. “The Ukrainian military has failed to break through the defenses of our army, but the high command has struck us in the rear, treacherously and cowardly beheading the army at this most difficult time.”

The dismissal of a Russian general reveals a new fissure in the military leadership.
General Ivan Popov, commander of the 58th Army, in a photo at an undisclosed location.

Popov, who goes by the nickname “Spartacus,” addressed his troops as “my gladiators” in the audio message released by retired General Andrei Gurulev, who once commanded the 58th Army and is now a lawmaker. The 58th Army is made up of various divisions and minor units.

Popov, 48, who has risen from platoon commander to leading a large group of forces, has encouraged his soldiers to go directly to him with any problems. This light-hearted approach stands in stark contrast to the rigid formal command style common in the Russian army. Russian military bloggers say he is well known for avoiding unnecessary losses, unlike many other commanders who were eager to sacrifice their soldiers to report success.

“I was faced with a difficult situation with higher-ups, where I had to keep quiet and act like a coward, saying what they wanted to hear, or calling a spade a spade,” Popov said. “He had no right to lie for his sake and that of our fallen comrades.”

Many military bloggers argued that Popov’s removal eroded troop morale at a time of relentless Ukrainian attacks. One blogger, Vladislav Shurygin, said that it had dealt a “terrible blow to the entire army,” while another, Roman Saponkov, described it as a “monstrous terrorist attack against the morale of the army.”

In a sign that many in the Russian officialdom share Popov’s criticism of the military leadership, Andrei Turchak, first deputy chairman of the upper house of parliament and head of the Kremlin’s main United Russia party, strongly supported the general, saying that ” the Motherland can be proud of such commanders.”

Andrei Kartapolov, a retired general who chairs the defense affairs committee in the lower house, also said the Defense Ministry should deal with the issues raised by Popov.

News of Popov’s dismissal added to the blow Russian troops received when another senior officer, Lieutenant General Oleg Tsokov, was killed by a Ukrainian missile on Tuesday.

Popov’s remarks about the need to rotate his exhausted troops, who have been fighting the Ukrainian counteroffensive since early June, reportedly infuriated the chief of staff, General Valery Gerasimov, who shrugged his shoulders in panic and ordered his dismissal immediately.

In a video released by the Defense Ministry, Gerasimov was seen meeting with military officers on Monday, the first time he had been seen since Prigozhin’s failed rebellion last month, which had demanded his removal. The uproar over Popov’s removal could further erode the position of Gerasimov, who has faced much criticism for his handling of the fighting in Ukraine.

Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov noted that Popov’s statement echoed Prigozhin’s criticism of the top brass. However, he added that the general’s statement was not a rebellion but rather a call for intervention by President Vladimir Putin.

“This kind of public dispute at the top of the Russian military is not a show of force,” he said.

During the June 24 revolt, which lasted less than 24 hours, mercenaries from Prigozhin’s Wagner Group quickly razed the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, taking over the military headquarters without firing a shot, before head about 200 kilometers from Moscow.

Prigozhin called his mercenaries back to their camps after agreeing to end the rebellion in exchange for amnesty for himself and his mercenaries and permission to move to Belarus.

The rebellion posed the biggest threat to Putin in his more than two decades in power and severely undermined his authority, although Prigozhin claimed that the uprising was not directed against the president but was intended to force the removal of Gerasimov and the defense minister, Sergey Shoigu. Wagner’s boss strongly criticized the way they had directed the action in Ukraine.

On Monday, the Kremlin confirmed that Prigozhin and 34 of his top officials met Putin on June 29, a startling announcement that raised new questions about the terms of the deal with Wagner. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wagner’s commanders pledged allegiance to Putin and said they were ready to “continue to fight for the Motherland.”

Putin has said Wagner’s troops had to choose between signing contracts with the Defense Ministry, moving to Belarus or withdrawing from service. Although the details of the deal remain murky, uncertainty has also surrounded the fate of General Sergei Surovikin, the deputy commander of the group of Russian forces fighting in Ukraine, who had reportedly been detained for questioning about his ties to Prigozhin.

Speaking in Helsinki on Thursday after a NATO summit, US President Joe Biden said he was unsure of Prigozhin’s fate.

“I’m not even sure where it is,” Biden said. “If I were him, I would be careful what I eat; I would watch my menu. But jokes aside… I don’t know. I don’t think any of us knows for sure what Prigozhin’s future is in Russia.”

The Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that the Wagner Group mercenaries were completing the handover of their weapons to the Russian military, part of the Kremlin’s efforts to defuse the threat it posed.

Associated Press