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Russian general in Ukraine says he was fired after accusing defense ministry of betraying troops

By Tim Lister, Uliana Pavlova and Anna Chernova, CNN

(CNN) — A senior Russian general in command of forces in occupied southern Ukraine says he was suddenly dismissed from his post after accusing Moscow’s Defense Ministry leadership of betraying his troops by not providing sufficient support.

Gen. Ivan Popov was the commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army, which has been engaged in heavy fighting in the Zaporizhzhia region. He is one of the most senior officers to have taken part in the bloody Russian campaign in Ukraine.

Popov said he had raised questions about “the lack of counter-battery combat, the absence of artillery reconnaissance stations and the mass deaths and injuries of our brothers from enemy artillery,” in a voice note published on Telegram late Wednesday.

The recording was posted on the messaging app by Andrey Gurulev, a member of the Russian Parliament and former deputy commander of the Southern Military District.

“I also raised a number of other problems and expressed it all at the highest level frankly and extremely harshly,” Popov said in the audio message. “I had no right to lie, therefore, I outlined all the problematic issues that exist today in the army in terms of combat work and support.”

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu “signed the order and got rid of me,” the general also said in the recording, as he accused the top Kremlin official of treason.

“As many commanders of divisional regiments said today, the servicemen of the armed forces of Ukraine could not break through our army from the front, (but) our senior commander hit us from the rear, treacherously and vilely decapitating the army at the most difficult and tense moment,” Popov said.

The 58th Combined Arms Army has been headquartered in the occupied city of Berdyansk, and both Ukrainian and Russian sources have said its base there – at the Dune hotel – was hit by a missile attack early Tuesday that killed another Russian general.

Prominent Russian military blogger Voyenniy Osvedomitel said Tuesday that “as a result of a strike by British Storm Shadow cruise missiles on the 58th Army’s reserve command post near Berdyansk, the deputy commander of the Southern Military District, Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsokov, has been killed.”

Addressing troops of the 58th in his voice note, Popov said: “Good night, my beloved gladiators, beloved relatives, one family. I had to collect my thoughts, a lot of things happened in the last two days.

“I am always available to you. It is an honor for me to stand with you in the same ranks.”

Popov also said he would “do everything in my power and even more so that it would be easier for you to fight so as many of our comrades as possible come back alive.”

A pro-Kremlin official denounced the public release of the voice note as a “political show.”

Andrey Turchak, the First Deputy Speaker of Russia’s Federation Council and leader of the parliamentary working group on Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, said that Popov’s appeal was not intended for the public and was shared only within private chat groups among commanders and soldiers of the 58th Army.

“General Popov’s appeal was non-public and posted in private chats of commanders and soldiers of the 58th Army,” Turchak said in a statement on Telegram Thursday.

“The fact that ‘member of parliament’ [Andrey] Gurulev somehow received it and made a political show out of it, is on his conscience,” he added.

Turmoil in Russian military leadership

The dismissal of such a senior officer amid an open dispute over the conduct of the Russian campaign is unprecedented, according to analysts.

In its assessment, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War cited reports that Popov had notified Russia’s top general, Valery Gerasimov, that elements of the 58th Combined Army – which are attempting to prevent Ukrainian advances in western Zaporizhia – were in need of rotation after fighting in combat for a long time and suffering significant casualties.

The 58th has been heavily involved in defending Russian positions in the Orikhiv direction, where Ukrainian forces have been attempting to make a breakthrough.

Ukrainian commanders have claimed the Russians are losing roughly two companies a day – killed or injured – along the southern front. A Russian company typically has 100 to 200 soldiers.

The ISW said the reports of Popov’s protests, “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.”

Popov’s dismissal comes less than three weeks after Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s short-lived mutiny, which erupted after months of complaints from the mercenary group’s leader about a lack of support from the Russian Defense Ministry for his troops fighting in Ukraine.

Another Russian commander, Gen. Sergey Surovikin, who has not been seen in public since the failed Wagner-led rebellion last month, is “resting,” a Russian lawmaker said Wednesday. Documents shared with CNN in June indicated Surovikin was a secret member of the private military company.

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