Russian general says top military brass betrayed soldiers fighting in Ukraine

FILE PHOTO: An armed soldier stands guard during a funeral ceremony to bury the remains of sixty service members of the Russian armed forces and three civilians, who were killed in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict, at a cemetery in Luhansk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, May 18, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko/File Photo

A Russian general said he had been dismissed as a commander after telling the military leadership about the dire situation at the front in Ukraine where he said Russian soldiers had been stabbed in the back by the failings of the top military brass.

After the June 24 mutiny by Wagner mercenaries, the biggest domestic challenge to the Russian state in decades, President Vladimir Putin has thus far kept Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov in their jobs.

Major General Ivan Popov, who commanded the 58th Combined Arms Army, said in a voice message published by Russian lawmaker Andrei Gurulyov that he had been dismissed after telling the truth to the top brass about the situation at the front.

“The Ukrainian army could not break through our ranks at the front but our senior chief hit us from the rear, viciously beheading the army at the most difficult and intense moment,” Popov said.

Popov, who commanded Russian units in southern Ukraine, explicitly raised the deaths of Russian soldiers from Ukrainian artillery and said the army lacked proper counter artillery systems and reconnaissance of enemy artillery.

There was no immediate comment from the defence ministry and Reuters was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the voice message. Lawmaker Gurulyov is a hardline former army commander who regularly appears on state television.

It was unclear when the message was recorded. The defence ministry has not said anything about his dismissal.

Such public criticism of Russia’s military leadership from a battle-hardened general less than three weeks since the Wagner mutiny indicates the level of discontent within the Russian army as it fights the biggest land war in Europe since World War Two.


Putin, Russia’s paramount leader since 1999, has said the mutiny could have tipped Russia into civil war and has compared it to the revolutionary turmoil of 1917 which forced Russia to essentially drop out of World War One.

The Kremlin has sought to project calm but Russian officials and diplomats have told Reuters that the full significance of the mutiny – which Prigozhin said was aimed only at settling scores with Shoigu and Gerasimov – has yet to play out.

Neither Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin nor General Sergei Surovikin, a deputy commander of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine, have been seen in public since the day of the mutiny.

For months Prigozhin had been openly insulting Putin’s most senior military men, using a variety of crude expletives and prison slang that shocked top Russian officials but that were left unanswered in public by Putin, Shoigu or Gerasimov.

Popov, 48, said he had kept his distance from the “gladiators” of the army but had faced a watershed moment when he told the military chiefs the truth.

“There was a tough situation with the senior bosses in which it was necessary either to keep quiet and be a coward or to say it the way it is,” Popov said. He did not say when he raised the complaints.

“I had no right to lie in the name of you, in the name of my fallen comrades in arms, so I outlined all the problems which exist.”

A Telegram channel linked to Wagner mercenaries said that Popov had raised the need to rotate exhausted troops from the front line with Gerasimov. Reuters was unable to verify that report.

“The senior chiefs apparently sensed some kind of danger from me and quickly concocted an order from the defence minister in just one day and got rid of me,” Popov said. “I await my fate.”


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