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Discarded Putin's generals: How the Kremlin losing top commanders in the war against Ukraine

Discarded Putin's generals: How the Kremlin losing top commanders in the war against Ukraine Photo: The Kremlin is losing top commanders in the war against Ukraine (collage by RBC-Ukraine)

Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, there have been multiple reshufflings in the Russian military leadership, and many army generals of the occupier have lost their positions. Where Russian generals disappeared and who has distinguished themselves the most is detailed in the material by RBC-Ukraine.

The following sources were used during the preparation of this material: publications by InformNapalm, the Institute for the Study of War, Russian media outlets (Kommersant, The Moscow Times, Meduza), The New York Times, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, Politico, BBC News, Tagesspiegel,, and exclusive comments from military experts Oleksandr Musiienko and Victor Yahun.

During the war against Ukraine, Russians witnessed a peculiar trend - generals who were once called "armageddons" and "butchers", were interviewed, and news about their exploits was published almost daily, let down their leader, and disappeared. Some were publicly dismissed, while others simply stopped appearing in the news and the overall information space.

According to the volunteer project InformNapalm, during the period from February to November 2022, 12 generals bid farewell to their positions in the Russian army. The most well-known among them were Valery Gerasimov, Alexander Zhuravlyov, Alexander Dvornikov, and Alexander Lapin. Later, Sergey Surovikin also joined their ranks, among others.

Some Russian commanders were less fortunate, as they didn't lose their positions but their lives, either falling victim to Ukrainian military strikes (at least 15 cases) or dying under mysterious circumstances on Russian territory. For example, their private plane crashed on the way from Moscow to St. Petersburg after a conflict with Putin.

RBC-Ukraine decided to remind of the most high-profile cases of generals being removed from their positions in the Russian army due to mistakes during the full-scale invasion.


Last year, Ukrainians learned about the existence of Sergey Surovikin, the commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces. Surovikin became infamous for carpet-bombing civilian cities in Syria, earning him the nickname "General Armageddon." In October 2022, Putin appointed Surovikin to command the occupying forces in Ukraine.

In the same month, Surovikin announced the surrender of the occupied city of Kherson and the entire right bank of the Kherson region. Surovikin said that this was a "difficult decision" that he had to make to allegedly preserve the combat readiness of the occupying forces. Apparently, Surovikin was not publicly punished for surrendering Kherson, as this role may have been assigned to him directly by his superiors.

Збиті "генерали Путіна". Як Кремль втрачає топ-командирів у війні проти України

Surovikin got the nickname "General Armageddon" for his role in the war in Syria (Photo: Getty Images)

The Kremlin also had high hopes for Surovikin during the fall-winter period. Surovikin, who had previously been notorious for ruthless attacks on civilian targets, was tasked with tormenting Ukrainians with darkness and cold. However, he lost this battle because, despite numerous strikes on the power grid and blackouts, Ukraine's energy infrastructure held up, and official Kyiv did not yield to Moscow's demands.

In January 2023, Surovikin was removed from his position as the commander of the occupying forces. The Chief of the General Staff of Russia, Gerasimov, assumed this position, while Surovikin was shifted to the role of his deputy. This rotation was explained by the increased level of leadership in the so-called special military operation and the expansion of its scale.

Surovikin also had close ties with the notorious leader of the Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who had a serious conflict with Defense Minister Shoigu and Gerasimov. Moreover, experts believed that Surovikin was being prepared as a replacement for Shoigu. He was supposed to assume his position after the failure of the Wagner mercenaries' rebellion, which, as we know, was a loud failure. By supporting Prigozhin in his crusade against Putin and Shoigu, Surovikin essentially sealed his own fate.

After the failure of the Wagner mercenaries, Surovikin suddenly disappeared from the information space and stopped appearing in public. Russian propagandists and war correspondents speculated that Surovikin had been arrested immediately after the suppression of the rebellion and was being constantly interrogated. Information about his arrest was also confirmed by Bloomberg sources, and The New York Times reported that Surovikin was aware of Prigozhin's plans in advance, but American intelligence did not know whether he had helped implement them. In August, rumors began to circulate that he had been removed from his position as commander of aviation.

Збиті "генерали Путіна". Як Кремль втрачає топ-командирів у війні проти України

Shoigu and Gerasimov wanted to get rid of Surovikin (Photo:

Against the backdrop of increased media attention to Surovikin, he was eventually shown in public, but only almost three months after the Wagner uprising. In mid-September, the Russian newspaper Kommersant published photos of Surovikin in Algeria without a military uniform, claiming that he was there with a delegation from the Ministry of Defense. the media also hinted that this trip might be related to a possible new position for the general, and assured that he still had the "highest level of trust".

After the photos from Algeria, the "General Armageddon" disappeared from public view once again. However, there was information in the media that Surovikin had been appointed as the head of the CIS coordination committee for air defense – in essence, his career came to an end.

According to military expert Oleksandr Musiienko, the Russian FSB may be behind Surovikin and may have saved him from prison after the Prigozhin conspiracy. However, today he no longer has the same influence he once had.

"When Surovikin disappeared from the radar, I think it was Shoigu and Gerasimov's demand to get rid of him because they were uncomfortable with him. Then the FSB guys warmed him up and found a place for him, showing that he was not sidelined and still had influence. But he doesn't have any now," Musiienko said in a comment to RBC-Ukraine.


General Colonel Mikhail Mizintsev became known to Ukrainians during the battles for Mariupol. Mizintsev, like his colleague Surovikin, gained notoriety for his brutality in Syria before the war with Ukraine, earning him the nickname "Syrian Butcher." Mizintsev applied his Syrian tactics in Mariupol, where he personally commanded the occupying forces, leading to him being referred to as the "Mariupol Butcher."

During the battles for Mariupol, Mizintsev held the position of Deputy Commander of the Southern Military District. After the capture of the Ukrainian city, which cost the Russians a significant number of casualties, Mizintsev was promoted to Deputy Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation for Logistics in September 2022.

Збиті "генерали Путіна". Як Кремль втрачає топ-командирів у війні проти України

Mizintsev commanded the destruction of Mariupol (Photo: Russian media)

Mizintsev was considered Putin's favorite, but like Surovikin, during Wagner's uprising, the general sided with Prigozhin. At the end of April 2023, several months before the coup attempt, Mizintsev was dismissed from his position as Deputy to Shoigu. This happened against the scandals regarding the supply of ammunition to the Wagner militants. In May, it became known that Mizintsev had joined the Prigozhin Private Military Company, where he was responsible for logistics.

As part of Wagner's coup attempt, according to experts, Mizintsev was supposed to become the Minister of Defense instead of Shoigu. However, fate had other plans. According to WSJ, Mizintsev, like "General Armageddon," was detained immediately after Prigozhin's failure, and since then, no one has heard from or seen him. As of today, it is not known for certain where Mizintsev is or what has happened to him.


General Colonel Alexander Lapin was also added to the Kremlin's undesirable list. Initially, he commanded the group Center engaged in warfare on the eastern front. During this period, Lapin gained notoriety for the rapid retreat of Russian forces from the Kharkiv region and the loss of Lyman, Izyum, and Balaklia.

Russian media outlets called Lapin a record holder for the amount of military equipment lost during the war. Under his command, Russian troops suffered and abandoned nearly 300 pieces of various equipment during their retreat from the Kharkiv region. His most notorious failure involved attempting to cross the Siverskyi Donets River, during which occupant forces sank dozens of tanks.

Збиті "генерали Путіна". Як Кремль втрачає топ-командирів у війні проти України

General Lapin set a record for lost equipment (Photo: Russian media)

These repeated setbacks led to frequent criticisms by Kadyrov and Prigozhin, who called for his removal from the position. In the fall of the previous year, Lapin was finally relieved of his command of the Russian troops' group Center. Russian media reported on his dismissal, although the Russian Ministry of Defense did not officially announce it. However, in January 2023, Lapin was unexpectedly appointed to lead the General Staff of the Russian Ground Forces, likely due to a shortage of qualified personnel.

Even in his new role, the Russian general quickly became a subject of ridicule. In May of this year, during one of the raids by militants from the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom of Russia Legion into the Belgorod region, General Lapin purportedly personally led Russian forces. Propagandists released a video (clearly staged) in which Lapin, having a Soviet flag on his sleeve, waved his hands erratically, as if commanding soldiers, and shouted "for the homeland." However, the video clearly showed that no one was engaging in combat with them, and everything was taking place in a safe location. His theatrics were widely mocked on social media.


Another Russian general failure - Rustam Muradov. While serving as the commander of the Eastern Military District since July 2022, he was responsible for the assault on Vuhledar in the Donetsk region of Ukraine.

In early 2023, Russian forces got bogged down in battles near Vuhledar. Over three days - from February 8th to 10th - under Muradov's command, the occupiers lost 103 units of equipment, including 36 tanks, in unsuccessful assaults. In total, in these battles, Ukrainian forces destroyed two Russian elite naval infantry brigades - the 115th and the 40th.

Furthermore, Muradov is considered to be involved in another failed operation by Russia, where hundreds of invaders, including naval infantry, were killed near Pavlivka in Donbas. These devastating defeats in Vuhledar and Pavlivka cost Muradov his position.

"Muradov was removed from his job because he was a mad idiot who could order soldiers to go to death. Many people complained about him," wrote The Moscow Times, citing sources in the Russian army.


In April of the previous year, after the failure of the plan for a swift takeover of Ukraine, there was a reshuffle in the command of the occupying forces. Alexander Dvornikov, who was nicknamed the "Aleppo Executioner" for ruthless bombings of the Syrian city, took command of the occupant groups in Ukraine. However, this appointment was not publicly announced.

Збиті "генерали Путіна". Як Кремль втрачає топ-командирів у війні проти України

Dvornikov commanded the Russian armed forces after the failed advance on Kyiv (Photo:

As the general had extensive experience in commanding in Syria, the Russian leadership expected results from him in the battle for Donbas. The New York Times reported that after taking office, Dvornikov attempted to improve coordination between Russian ground and air units.

However, by June, when it became clear that the Kremlin's plans to capture the entire Donetsk region by the symbolic May 9th had failed, there were reports in the media that Dvornikov was no longer leading the occupying forces in Ukraine. The reason for the rumors was that the general stopped appearing in public. In the fall, Surovikin was appointed to command the occupiers in Ukraine.


Valery Gerasimov has been the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation since 2012. There have been unsubstantiated reports in the media that he, along with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, allegedly attempted to sabotage the invasion of Ukraine.

Indeed, the German outlet Tagesspiegel, citing leaked classified Pentagon documents, reported that Gerasimov and Patrushev wanted to quickly end the war with Ukraine, not in Russia's favor, in order to undermine Putin and seize power. The veracity of this information cannot be confirmed since the Pentagon did not verify the authenticity of the leaked documents.

All of Russia's losses on the battlefield influenced Gerasimov's status, but his proximity to Putin still allowed him to hold his position as the Chief of the General Staff. However, since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, Gerasimov has also served as the commander of the occupying forces in Ukraine. As mentioned earlier, he replaced Surovikin in this position earlier this year.

Збиті "генерали Путіна". Як Кремль втрачає топ-командирів у війні проти України

Gerasimov has headed the Russian General Staff since 2012 (Photo: Getty Images)

After the Prigozhin coup attempt, there were rumors that Gerasimov had been removed from his position as the commander of the occupiers, but this information was not confirmed, and he continued to appear in Russian army command posts. Prigozhin was the most vocal critic of Gerasimov in Russia. In the struggle for power, Prigozhin accused Shoigu and Gerasimov of problems with supplying the Wagner Group and failures on the front lines, demanding their resignation.

During the war, Gerasimov visited the occupied territories of Ukraine several times. During one of these visits to the then-occupied Izyum, he narrowly avoided being hit by Ukrainian forces. Gerasimov left the occupiers' positions shortly before the strike, which saved him, but not several dozen officers and, as the media reported, the chief of staff of the Russian Airborne Troops, Andrey Simonov.

According to retired Security Service of Ukraine general Viktor Yahun, Gerasimov has been able to stay in his position for so long due to Russia's totalitarian system. As in the Soviet Union, leaving such a high-ranking position can only be done feet first, and currently, it is easier for the Russian leadership to keep Gerasimov in his position than to find a replacement that would not raise doubts about their loyalty.

Popov and Teplinsky

The fate of another Russian general, Ivan Popov, is linked to Gerasimov. Popov commanded the 58th Combined Arms Army in 2023. In July, the Institute for the Study of War learned that Gerasimov had relieved Popov of his post because he requested a rotation of his troops in the Zaporizhzhia region.

According to ISW, Popov told Gerasimov during one of the meetings that his units suffered significant losses due to the Ukrainian offensive. In response, Gerasimov accused Popov of panicking and blackmailing senior leadership. When Popov threatened to report this issue directly to Putin, he was quickly removed from his position, as he told a member of the Russian State Duma.

Another rebellious general was the commander of the Airborne Troops, Mikhail Teplinsky. He publicly criticized the higher military leadership for concealing losses among Russian paratroopers. In a video address dedicated to Airborne Troops Day, broadcast on the official Russian Ministry of Defense TV channel, he disclosed what he claimed to be the real number of casualties. The channel quickly removed Teplinsky's video, and the general disappeared from the public for a long time. Presumably, this was due to censorship by the Ministry of Defense.

This was not the first such incident involving the commander of the Russian paratroopers. In February, he criticized Gerasimov for the scale of Russian losses in Ukraine in his address dedicated to Defender of the Fatherland Day. At the end of September, one of the Russian war correspondents reported Teplinsky's dismissal, but this information has not been officially confirmed or refuted yet.

There were even rumors that Teplinsky was arrested after the Prigozhin coup attempt due to his connections with the Wagner PMC. However, he soon reappeared in public and announced his plans to revive the 104th Airborne Division and create several other units.

Overall, during the war against Ukraine, Teplinsky has allegedly been removed from his position multiple times, then reinstated, and then removed again, and he has repeatedly criticized the Russian Ministry of Defense. However, according to Yahun, "Putin's vindictiveness knows no bounds," so a similar fate may await the commander of the Russian paratroopers as it did with Prigozhin. "They will remember his claims. They took revenge on Prigozhin, and they will take avenge on him," he noted.


The brightest star that faded during the war undoubtedly became the leader of the Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who went from being a cook to Putin's enemy. He became an innovator of this war, recruiting prisoners from Russian prisons into Wagner PMC and using them as cannon fodder on the front lines.

Prigozhin fought for power with Shoigu and Gerasimov, constantly criticizing their war strategy, and frontline failures, and accusing them of fighting against Wagner PMC. He created his own powerful army within Russia in the hope that it would bring him more power, but everything did not go according to his plan.

Збиті "генерали Путіна". Як Кремль втрачає топ-командирів у війні проти України

Prigozhin became the first person publicly eliminated after the start of the war (Photo: Russian media)

In June 2023, Prigozhin rebelled against the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff in response to the supposed Russian army strike on the rear camp of the Wagnerites. Militants led by Prigozhin seized the headquarters of the Russian army in Rostov-on-Don, responsible for commanding the occupation forces in Ukraine, and then headed to Moscow.

On their way to Moscow, they shot down a Russian command plane, two combat helicopters, and four Mi-8 transport helicopters. However, everything was in vain; Prigozhin's plan failed.

As a result, most of the militants came under the command of Shoigu, along with all the weapons and equipment, and Prigozhin forfeited his life for his scheme.

On the evening of August 23, in the Tver region of Russia, a private plane carrying Prigozhin and the top leadership of the Wagner PMC crashed. Everyone on board perished. As Russian dictator Putin stated in one of his interviews, he doesn't forgive only betrayal. The June coup led by Progpzhin was considered a betrayal. Of course, there is no direct evidence of Putin's involvement in Prigozhin's death, but most likely, it was revenge for the stab in the back.

Збиті "генерали Путіна". Як Кремль втрачає топ-командирів у війні проти України

Putin may be involved in Prigozhin's liquidation (Photo: Getty Images)

Even the security guarantees provided to Prigozhin by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko did not help when he supposedly acted as an intermediary between the Wagner leader and Putin. According to the agreements, Prighozhin and the militants were supposed to relocate to Belarus and continue their activities there. But after the plane crash, Lukashenko denied giving any guarantees.

"If I were to answer this question directly: I should not have ensured Prigozhin's safety. That's first. Second, such a conversation never took place in the vein you mentioned," Belarusian agency "Belta" quoted the dictator.

Prigozhin became the first Russian commander who was not just removed from power but liquidated. Moreover, it happened publicly. What is significant in this story is that literally days ago, Putin officially tasked the person called a traitor to recruit volunteers for the war against Ukraine.


It is evident that the Russian leadership does not value its own generals. Constant resignations and rotations indicate a less-than-ideal situation in the Russian army, but it is unlikely that the disgruntled generals will rebel against Putin. Yahun explains that the current Russian generals are corrupt, completely subservient to the special services, and dependent on their wealth, so they are unlikely to engage in revolutions.

However, dissatisfaction among the Russian officer corps is indeed growing, according to Musiienko. In his opinion, there is an internal struggle in Russia between the FSB and the Ministry of Defense, in which the military is gaining more influence than ever in modern Russian history.

Musiienko believes that these processes are being managed by Shoigu, who, using both the disgruntled military and those who are more loyal, wants to convert this into his potential for a future political career. "On the one hand, he tries to deal with them, suppress the dissenters, and on the other hand make arrangements with those who are more loyal, so that they will be useful to him and provide support in the future," he explained.

At the same time, despite frequent dismissals, transfers, and losses, there are still enough generals in the Russian officer corps. And if a shortage does occur, it will be filled by promoting officers with lower ranks, Musiienko believes.