A top Russian general has accused army chiefs of betraying his troops on the southern front line in the first public outburst from a senior member of Moscow’s military.
The unprecedented remarks from Major General Ivan Popov came after he was sacked for criticising the defence ministry.
Major General Popov had been commanding Russia’s 58th Combined Arms Army as it fought off Ukraine’s counter-offensive in the key Zaporizhzhia region, where he said his exhausted troops had not been allowed to rest or been given adequate artillery support.
“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,” he said in an audio message posted on Telegram on Wednesday.
“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,” Major General Popov said. “I await my fate.”
Major General Popov is the first senior Russian army commander to be sacked for insubordination since the beginning of the war. His sacking and subsequent outburst is evidence of growing discontent within the Russian army which has been steadily eroded during Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
A rebellion last month by the Kremlin’s Wagner mercenaries was aimed at Sergei Shoigu, the minister of defence, and General Valery Gerasimov, the head of the Russian military who the rebels accused of incompetence.
Since then, the Russian ministry of defence has struggled to impose its authority.
Reports from Russian army units have said that many ordinary soldiers sympathise with the Wagner rebels and their commander, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Grey Zone, a Telegram channel linked to the Wagner Group, was the first to report late on Wednesday evening that Major General Popov had been fired after complaining about conditions on the front line.
It said the Wagner rebellion had “united a huge part of the army” and that soldiers were beginning to speak out.
“The removal of Popov is a monstrous act of terrorism against morale in the army,” it said. Analysts have said that Putin is increasingly worried about the loyalty of his army, especially since the failed Wagner mutiny last month when the regular military largely failed to defend Russian cities.
In its aftermath, he promised to strengthen the National Guard with tanks and artillery. It is a force of 340,000 men that is commanded by a hardcore loyalist and reports directly to him.