Russia Appears to Begin ‘Purge’ of Battlefield Commanders in Ukraine

The Russian government appears to have fired top commanders for its invasion of Ukraine and replaced them with lower ranking officers, an unusual shake-up in the midst of an ongoing military operation that analysts say represents a “possible purge.”

The Institute for the Study of War in an analysis note published early Wednesday assessed that Russia will appoint a new commander for the headquarters overseeing operations in the region that includes Ukraine while also replacing the commander for the war itself – which Russian President Vladimir Putin insists on calling a “special military operation” – with a senior officer not currently commanding combat troops.

Similarly, the Kremlin appears to have fired the current head of the elite Russian airborne forces and replaced him with Colonel-General Mikhail Teplinsky, the current chief of staff for the military headquarters overseeing operations around central Russia – the region stretching from the Ural mountains to Siberia.

The institute, which has fastidiously documented Russian operations since its invasion on Feb. 24, assesses the moves indicate the Kremlin “may be in the process of radically reshuffling the command structure of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, indicating a possible purge of senior officers blamed for failures in Ukraine.”

“Such drastic rotations within the Russian military, if true, are not actions taken by a force on the verge of a major success and indicate ongoing dysfunction in the Kremlin’s conduct of the war,” the institute’s analysis note concluded.

Moscow has not commented publicly on the moves, though Teplinksy on Tuesday oversaw a medal ceremony for paratroopers and drone operators who distinguished themselves in the Ukraine war, state news reported.

Appointing a new commander for the headquarters that oversees Ukraine, known as the Southern Military District, combined with a separate appointment for the war itself “is a drastic step that would speak to severe crises within the Russian high command, and possibly a purge by the Kremlin,” the institute said.

Other reports indicate the Russian navy has experienced similar struggles. The families of survivors of the sinking of the Moskva, the former flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, have formally appealed the government’s decision to return to active duty immediately despite the psychological distress of what they experienced. The survivors are currently stationed on another ship, the Ladnyi, which the families say is unfit for combat.

The assessments represent only the latest shake-up of top commanders that Putin has overseen. U.S. News reported in May that he had lost faith in his top generals and fired other senior commanders for their high-profile and embarrassing failures on the battlefield, including the sinking of the Moskva in an apparent missile attack, for which Ukraine claimed credit.

Putin’s unusual condemnation of top military brass came amid reports that the Russian president himself was beginning to oversee more of the tactical decisions for the conflict. Putin, who increasingly faces other sources of pressure at home as a result of unusually united Western economic sanctions, continues to insist the war represents a defense of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine against a Western-backed government he claims is run by neo-Nazis.

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