- The Russian general says he was deposed
- Top officials say they betrayed Russian soldiers
- The Defense Ministry has remained silent on the general’s fate
- Soldiers die for lack of artillery, general says
MOSCOW, July 13 (Reuters) – A Russian general said he was removed from his command after he told army chiefs about the worsening situation on the frontline in Ukraine. High military brass.
President Vladimir Putin has so far kept Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov in their jobs after the June 24 mutiny by Wagner mercenaries, the biggest domestic challenge to the Russian state in decades.
Major General Ivan Popov, who commanded the 58th Combined Arms Army, said in a voice message released by Russian lawmaker Andrei Kuruliov that he was fired after telling top officials the truth about the situation on the front line.
“The Ukrainian army could not break our ranks in front, but our senior leader attacked us from the rear, brutally cutting off the head of the army at the most difficult and critical moment,” Popov said.
Popov, whose military nickname was “Spartacus,” commanded Russian units in southern Ukraine, openly inflated Russian casualties from Ukrainian artillery, and said the army lacked proper counter-artillery systems and intelligence on enemy artillery.
There was no immediate comment from the Defense Ministry and Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the voice message. Lawmaker Kuruliov is a tough ex-military general who regularly appears on state television.
It is unclear when the message was recorded and Bobo’s current whereabouts are unknown. The Ministry of Defense has not commented on his dismissal.
A public criticism of Russia’s military leadership from a battle-hardened general less than three weeks after the Wagner mutiny, if genuine, would indicate continued discontent within the Russian military, which is fighting the largest land war in Europe since World War II.
Putin, Russia’s dominant leader since 1999, has said the uprising risks plunging Russia into civil war and compared it to the 1917 revolutionary upheaval.
The Kremlin has tried to remain calm, but Russian officials and diplomats told Reuters that the full ramifications of the mutiny — which Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said was aimed only at settling scores with Shoigu and Gerasimov — had yet to play out.
Neither Prigozhin nor the deputy commander of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine, General Sergei Churovikhino, have been seen in public since the uprising.
Prigozhin had been openly insulting Putin’s senior military officers for months, using a variety of crude expletives and prison slang that shocked Russian officials, but was not publicly responded to by Putin, Shoigu or Gerasimov.
Popov, 48, said he faced a watershed moment when he told military leaders the truth.
“There was a difficult situation with the senior bosses, in which it was necessary to remain silent and be a coward or say it like that,” Popov said. He did not say when he raised the complaints.
“I have no right to lie in your name, in the name of my fallen comrades, so I outlined all the problems I have.”
A military coup?
In 2017, the official newspaper of Russia’s Armed Forces published a profile of Bobo. He previously served in Russia’s war against separatists in Chechnya and in the 2008 war in Georgia.
A Telegram channel linked to the Wagner mercenaries said that Popov had raised with Gerasimo the need to rotate depleted troops from the front line. Reuters could not verify the report.
Russia’s main state television channels did not report Bobo’s comments on their main news programs on Thursday, although the respected Russian newspaper Kommersant did.
War bloggers in Russia were divided between those who called Popov’s comments an open protest and those who said Popov was not a mutineer but a respected general who was at odds with higher-ups.
“This is a dangerous precedent,” said Igor Girkin, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer who helped organize pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
Popov said his future is now uncertain.
“Senior leaders sensed some kind of danger from me and quickly produced an order from the defense minister within a day to remove me,” he said. “I await my fate.”
Guy Falconbridge Report; Editing by Andrew Osborne and Angus MacSwan
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