Russian general in Ukraine removed for strategy criticism: Report

Major-General Ivan Popov, commander of Russia’s 58th Combined Arms Army, criticised strategy on Ukraine, reports say.

Moscow’s military leadership has reportedly dismissed Major-General Ivan Popov, commander-in-chief of Russia’s 58th Combined Arms Army stationed in southern Ukraine, over his concerns for troops fighting without rest and criticism of Russian battlefield strategy.

Popov addressed soldiers in a voice message that was circulated on the Telegram messaging app on Wednesday, saying he had been relieved of his post for criticising Russia’s military inefficiencies in Ukraine.

“I drew attention to the greatest tragedy of modern war – the lack of artillery reconnaissance and counterstrikes and the multiple deaths and injuries caused by enemy artillery,” Popov said, according to the message circulated on the Telegram channel of Duma legislator Andrei Gurulyov.

Popov, whose unit was fighting in the southern Ukrainian region of Zaporizhia, was harshly critical of his superiors.

“The soldiers of the Ukrainian armed forces could not break through our front, but from behind the commander-in-chief dealt us a treacherous blow by decapitating the army at the most critical and tense moment,” Popov said in his message.

Russian media outlet RBC reported that Popov said he had to choose between staying silent or speaking out about conditions on the battlefield.

“I have always been honest, from the first day I arrived in our army. Therefore, I honestly tell you: a difficult situation arose with the senior authorities, when it was necessary either to remain silent and cowardly and say what they wanted to hear, or to call a spade a spade. And in the name of you, in the name of all our military friends who died, I had no right to lie, so I outlined all the problematic issues that exist today in the army,” RBC quoted Popov as saying, according to a translation.

Among the issues raised by Popov were Russia’s ineffective targeting of Ukraine’s heavy weaponry and the “mass death and injury of our brothers from enemy artillery”, according to RBC.

Earlier on Wednesday, other Telegram channels had reported that Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov had called Popov an “alarmist” and replaced him.There was no immediate comment from Russia’s defence ministry regarding Popov’s fate, the Reuters news agency reported.

Washington DC-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said this week Popov’s removal was reportedly linked to his complaints over Moscow’s failure to rotate and rest Russian troops from the front lines in Ukraine.

According to the ISW, Popov had told Chief of Staff Gerasimov that his troops had been in battle for extended periods of time and had suffered significant casualties and were in need of rotation away from the front.

“Gerasimov reportedly accused Popov of alarmism and blackmailing the Russian military command,” the ISW said, citing Russian online sources.

Popov was reportedly removed from his position and sent to “forward positions” in Ukraine after threatening to complain to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“These reports, if true, may support ISW’s previous assessments that Russian forces lack operational reserves that would allow them to carry out rotations of personnel defending against Ukrainian counteroffensives and that Russian defensive lines may be brittle,” the think tank said.

Popov’s dismissal and criticism of the Russian military leadership echo the anger expressed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief of Russia’s Wagner mercenary forces, who had for months berated top commanders in Moscow for poor military planning before launching a short-lived uprising by his mercenaries in June to remove senior Russian defence officials.

Prigozhin called off his 24-hour mutiny as Wagner units closed in on Moscow and he secured a deal to leave Russia with his fighters for bases to be established in neighbouring Belarus.

Russia’s defence ministry said on Wednesday Wagner forces had handed over a large amount of heavy weaponry provided to them for operations in Ukraine. The return of weaponry appeared to be part of the agreement between Moscow and Prigozhin following the mutiny.

Wagner has returned T-90 and T-80 tanks, multiple rocket launchers, numerous artillery systems, as well as 2,500 tonnes of ammunition of various types and 20,000 firearms, the ministry said.

The whereabouts of Prigozhin remain unknown, and it is unclear whether his fighters will take up the offer of exile in Belarus, where camps ready for their arrival remained empty last week.