The senior Russian military commander who was publicly bashed by a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin over his performance in Ukraine is no longer in his post, according to Russian state media, in what appeared to be the latest in a string of personnel shake-ups as Moscow grapples with open criticism of its setbacks on the battlefield.
Unconfirmed news reports that Col. Gen. Alexander Lapin had been relieved of command have been swirling since last month.
Then, last week, the Russian state news agency Tass reported that Maj. Gen. Alexander Linkov was now the interim commander of the Central Military District, meaning that he had assumed General Lapin’s role — at least temporarily.
General Lapin’s fate had been the subject of increasing speculation since Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of the southern Russian republic of Chechnya, slammed him as “incompetent” in a Telegram post last month. Mr. Kadyrov’s post blamed General Lapin directly for Russian forces’ loss of the key city of Lyman in eastern Ukraine, and said that the general should be “sent to the front to wash his shame off with blood.”
The comments were part of highly unusual public criticism from right-wing hawks close to Mr. Putin about Russian forces’ struggles in the face of Ukrainian counteroffensives. Among those questioning the handling of the war in Ukraine were Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group.
The report from Tass on Thursday was the first official acknowledgment that General Lapin, on whom in July Mr. Putin conferred the title “Hero of Russia,” was no longer in command. But it did not specify whether the general was expected to return to his post or had been dismissed.
On Sunday, Britain’s defense intelligence agency said that if General Lapin’s removal was confirmed, it would be the latest in a series of dismissals of top Russian military officials, and the first since Russia’s Defense Ministry last month appointed a new overall commander for its forces in Ukraine, Gen. Sergei Surovikin. The commanders of the eastern, southern and western military districts had already been replaced since the war began.
“These dismissals represent a pattern of blame against senior Russian military commanders for failures to achieve Russian objectives on the battlefield,” the agency wrote in its latest daily update. “This is in part likely an attempt to insulate and deflect blame from Russian senior leadership at home.”