A top Russian general in Ukraine has lashed out at his superiors after being sacked from his command, accusing them of undermining the war effort through dishonesty and politicking, in the latest sign of turmoil within the Kremlin’s military leadership.

In a four-minute recording released late Wednesday night, Major General Ivan Popov addressed his troops, accusing his superiors of dealing a blow to his forces by removing him from his post in retaliation for speaking the truth about battlefield problems to senior leadership behind. closed doors His firing, and the unusual public airing of his grievances, reflected the disarray that has plagued Russia’s military command since a failed coup three weeks ago.

While the 58th Army of Combined Arms, which he commanded, slowed down a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the Zaporizhzhia region, “we were hit in the back by our commander-in-chief, who treacherously and basely decapitated our army at the most difficult and tense moment”, General Popov. said – an apparent reference to General Valery V. Gerasimov, head of the armed forces.

Since the uprising by Wagner’s mercenary group and its leader, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, several senior officers have been arrested or removed from their posts, according to a person close to the Russian military, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Speculation has swirled in particular over the fate of General Sergei Surovikin, the head of the air force and former head of forces in Ukraine, who has not been seen in public since the uprising, and was told this week by a top Russian lawmaker. to be “resting”.

The person close to the Russian military said that General Surovikin, an ally of Prigozhin who was said to have known before the uprising, had been arrested. In January, the Kremlin removed General Surovikin from overseeing Russian forces in Ukraine and put General Gerasimov in direct control of conducting the war, even as he remains chief of the Russian General Staff, an unconventional merger of duties for a military at war.

Adding to this week’s turmoil, another top Russian commander in Ukraine, Lieutenant Oleg Tsokov, deputy commander of the Southern Military District, was killed Tuesday in a Ukrainian airstrike in the occupied city of Berdiansk — one of Russia’s most senior. losses since the beginning of the war.

General Popov’s recording offered an extremely rare public look at what a top Russian officer thinks about how President Vladimir V. Putin’s expensive war is being waged. Western governments are eager for such intelligence, but U.S. officials say they have limited understanding of the views of Russian military leaders or the recriminations against them.

Also unclear is the status of Wagner soldiers and their leader, Mr. Prigozhin — who, as of last week, was said to be in Russia and free to roam, despite having staged a mutiny that he said was aimed at removing inept military leaders, no. Mr. Putin

“We’re not even sure where he is and what connection he has,” President Biden told reporters in Helsinki on Thursday. “If I were him, I’d be careful what I eat.”

Until his short-lived rebellion, Mr. Prigozhin, a civilian, often publicly denounced Russia’s military command, accusing it of incompetence and backstabbing, which he said led to the uprising. General Popov’s comments indicate that similar dissatisfaction exists high within the uniformed ranks.

But so far there is little indication that the fallout from the uprising has hurt the ability of Russian forces to defend against the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which began last month and has made only incremental progress.

General Popov said he ended up in a “difficult situation” with the leadership of the Russian army, in which he had to choose whether he would be a coward who would tell his superiors only what they wanted to hear, or “call a spade a spade”. spade.” He told his troops that he had no right to lie on their behalf, or in the names of those who had died, and therefore “outlined all the problematic issues that exist in the army at the present day in terms of combat work and support.”

Specifically, he said he reported the lack of counter-battery and artillery reconnaissance capabilities, and the excessive deaths and injuries that Russian troops suffered on the battlefield.

“Apparently, in connection with this, the senior commanders sensed some danger in me and quickly, in one day’s light, came up with an order from the Minister of Defense, which removed me from the deployment and removed me,” General Popov. said

It was not clear whether he intended his farewell speech to his troops to be public.

In an interview with state news channel Rossiya 24, Mr. Putin said on Thursday that the weapons and tanks that the West has supplied to Ukraine are not having the desired effect. He reiterated Moscow’s opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine, saying it would pose a security threat to Russia.

It was not immediately clear whether General Popov’s shooting was linked to the Wagner rebellion, but the removal of a high-ranking general whose forces appeared to be operating successfully on one of the most important stretches of the front line left many Russian observers shocked. .

“The removal of Popov is a monstrous act of terrorism against the morale of the army,” military blogger Roman Saponkov wrote on Telegram, saying Wagner’s failure had encouraged the Russian military leadership to purge its ranks.

The Telegram channel Rybar, run by the pro-war military blogger Mikhail Zvinchuk, said that General Popov enjoys huge support among the ranks of the Russian army, who found the news of his firing highly demoralizing.

“The conflict between Popov and Gerasimov highlights the main issue: the absence of unity” in the Russian armed forces, Rybar wrote. “The enemy will definitely take advantage of this.”

Alexander Sladkov, a military correspondent for Russian state television, said that General Popov was not a rebel and would most likely reappear in a different position at the front. He warned that the Russian army should keep every soldier and general in battle because “we have great tests ahead of us.” General Popov said he was still waiting to hear from military leaders about how he could continue his service.

Tension over the military turmoil was palpable in the Telegram posts of Russian politicians and commentators.

General Popov’s recording was published on social media by Andrei Gurulyov, a lawmaker and former general who once commanded the same 58th Combined Arms Army that General Popov led.

Andrei Turchak, the general secretary of the ruling United Russia party, attacked Mr. Gurulyov for publicizing the recording. He said in Telegram that the remarks were private and accused Mr. Gurulyov of “making a political spectacle” of the matter, adding: “The army was and remains out of politics.”

Oleg Tsaryov, a pro-Moscow former Ukrainian official once seen by US intelligence officials as a possible puppet leader the Kremlin could try to install in Kiev, fired back on the same platform: “Andrei Turchak is right, the army should be out of. politics. But politics should be out of the army too.” He added: “If the system within the army was really effective, we would not see more and more spillage outside.”

Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington.

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