Putin removes military leaders – figures and fears of the Kremlin

Vladimir Putin and Russian generals. Photo: TASS

At least 12 Russian military leaders have been replaced by Putin since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Some were removed due to mistakes at the front, others for criticizing the high command. The support of the Kremlin regime – the army – is no longer an absolutely loyal and monolithic structure. According to analysts, the constant rotation of generals proves that Putin is wary of the military, reports FREEDOM.

One of Putin’s disgraced generals, the former deputy commander of the joint group of Russian troops in Ukraine, Sergei Surovikin, was spotted in Algeria. He came there as part of a delegation from the Russian Ministry of Defense, as the Russian publication Kommersant writes.

Surovikin disappeared from public space after Prigozhin’s failed rebellion. As a longtime ally of the head of the Wagner PMC, he could at least know about the preparations for the rebellion. The Wall Street Journal reported that after the failed campaign of the Wagnerites against Moscow, the general and 12 other high-ranking military officers were detained. The day before Prigozhin’s death, Surovikin was removed from his post, and a couple of weeks later he was appointed head of the Coordination Committee for Air Defense under the Council of Defense Ministers of the CIS.

“Most dictators use some type of violent coercion to stay in power. They can intimidate the opposition, the population and even their associates in order to remain in office. But this means that the people whom the dictator gives the power to intimidate can, in turn, become a threat to himself,” said Austin Matthews, an associate professor at East Carolina University, in an interview with Meduza.

The Wall Street Journal estimates that the Kremlin has removed at least 12 senior military leaders since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began. Among them is the commander of the 58th Army, Ivan Popov. According to him, he was fired after he reported to his superiors about the difficult situation in the Zaporizhzhia region. Popov has repeatedly criticized the Russian Ministry of Defense. After his resignation, the military leader was sent to Syria. Generals Serdyukov, Chaiko and Kisel also went there. Analysts at the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW) are confident that in this way the Kremlin is getting rid of disloyal commanders.

“The Russian military is in many ways a reflection of the Russian state: kleptocratic, incompetent and built on a Potemkin village,” Richard Shirreff, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (2011-2014), told LIGA.net.

Putin also fired Deputy Defense Minister Mikhail Mizintsev, who is called the “Mariupol butcher” because of the barbaric bombing of the Ukrainian city. The commander of the 155th brigade, General Rustam Muradov, lost his position after failing the operation to storm Vugledar. Due to constant failures at the front, Putin removed the chief of the General Staff of the Russian army, Valery Gerasimov, from managing military operations, as the Daily Mail writes. Formally, he remains the Chief of the General Staff. Moreover, he is even shown allegedly inspecting advanced positions, but experts believe that Gerasimov no longer has real power.

“He failed in transforming the Russian army. He failed the initial planning for the 2022 invasion. It failed during the first mobilization in September 2022. He failed to establish relationships with his key generals. He allowed his troops to commit terrible atrocities against the Ukrainian people,” stated military expert Mick Ryan in an interview with LIGA.net.

Only Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu remains irremovable. Analysts have an explanation for the reasons for this. First, when Russia loses its war against Ukraine, the Kremlin will need someone to blame for the loss. Second and most importantly, a more talented minister in this position could pose a threat to Putin personally.

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Earlier, independent military analyst Alexander Alesin suggested on FREEDOM that Russian President Vladimir Putin would gradually replace “parquet generals” with front-line military leaders who have combat experience. According to the analyst, there is a split in the military elite in the Russian Federation.