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Putin ‘purges military top brass as General Gerasimov is suspended’

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Published: 15:54 BST, 12 May 2022 | Updated: 01:56 BST, 13 May 2022

Russia’s top commander General Valery Gerasimov has been suspended, a top adviser to the Ukrainian president has claimed, while a clutch of other officers have been sacked or arrested amid a rumoured purge of top brass.

Oleksiy Arestovych, a veteran of military intelligence and one of President Zelensky‘s inner circle, claimed late Wednesday that Gerasimov – the chief of staff of the Russian army – has been suspended as Putin looks for senior commanders to blame over his blundering invasion of Ukraine.

Arestovych, speaking to dissident Russian lawyer and politician Mark Feygin on YouTube last night, said: ‘According to preliminary information, Gerasimov has been de-facto suspended. They are deciding whether to give him time to fix things, or not.’

He added: ‘The commander of the first tank army of the western military district Lieutenant General Sergei Kisel has also been arrested and fired after the first tank army was defeated near Kharkiv.’

Two further army commanders have been fired due to heavy battlefield losses, according to information released on a Telegram channel run by the Ukrainian interior ministry, which also claimed the commander of the Black Sea fleet has been sacked and arrested and his vice admiral has been placed under investigation.

Arestovych stressed that his information is ‘preliminary’, but it comes after Gerasimov failed to appear during Russia’s Victory Day parade in Moscow on Monday which he was widely expected to attend. It also comes after he was reportedly wounded by shrapnel in Ukraine when Putin sent him there in order to turn the war around.

Putin’s army – once championed as the world’s second-best – has been handed a series of humiliating battlefield defeats in just two months of fighting in Ukraine that has seen more than 10,000 troops killed, hundreds of tanks destroyed, its Black Sea flagship sunk and Russia’s international standing trashed.

Just yesterday, it was revealed that Russian troops were massacred while trying to cross a river in the Donbas after Ukraine discovered their sneak-attack and unleashed an artillery barrage that destroyed at least 58 vehicles.

Suspended: General Valery Gerasimov, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, has been suspended – according to ‘preliminary’ information put out by one of Zelensky’s top advisers, Oleksiy Arestovych

Lieutenant General Vladislav Ershov (left) has been fired as 6th army commander, according to information from Ukraine’s interior ministry, while Lieutenant General Sergei Kisel (right), commander of the 1st tank army, has been sacked and fired

‘Sacked and arrested’: Admiral Igor Osipov, commander of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, has been removed from his post and arrested, according to information from the interior ministry in Kyiv

Major General Arkady Marzoev (left), commander of the 22nd army, has reportedly been sacked, while Vice Admiral Sergei Pinchuk (right), deputy commander of the Black Sea fleet, is allegedly under investigation

‘After the failure in Ukraine – repressions and purges in the Russian army,’ a post from the Find Your Own Telegram feed, run by Kyiv’s interior ministry, said late yesterday.

‘The Commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Admiral Igor Osipov, was removed from his post and arrested. [There are] Investigative actions in relation to… first deputy commander of the fleet, Vice Admiral Sergei Pinchuk.

‘Due to the large losses of personnel, weapons and military equipment, [Russia] fired: Commander of the 6th Army, Lieutenant General Vladislav Ershov; ommander of the tank army of the western military district, Lieutenant General Sergei Kisel and one of the deputy commanders.

‘[Also] Commander of the 22nd Army Corps of the Southern Military District, Major General Arkady Marzoev.’

If confirmed, it would mark the largest purge of senior military commanders during the conflict so far and represent a tactic admission by Putin that the invasion has largely been a failure.

Despite being forced to retreat from Kyiv in the first phase of the war and failing to make a breakthrough in the Donbas in the second, Putin has continued to insist that his military is achieving all of its targets on time and in accordance to the plan – statements echoed by his lapdog officials and puppet propagandists.

But the goals have continued to change. Initially, the aim was to seize Kyiv in a rapid attack designed to topple the government and install a puppet regime – revealed by a Russia state media article that was mistakenly published just days after the war started which preemptively declared victory.

Once it became clear that Russia lacked the manpower to take Kyiv, it retreated – but generals claimed that had been the goal all along. Kyiv, they said, had now been demilitarized which would allow them to focus all of their efforts on liberating Donbas: A region in the east that Putin has declared to be independent.

But Russia has yet to make any significant gains on this front, even in Mariupol – the heavily besieged southern city where Ukrainian troops are holed up in a huge steel works – instead inching forward in a hugely bloody advance that is draining both men and resources.

Putin was thought to have ordered his generals to produce a victory for him to brag about during Monday’s Victory Day parade in Moscow. In the end, he simply avoided the topic of victory in Ukraine altogether – saying simply that troops were fighting ‘for our people in Donbass, for the security of our Motherland, for Russia.’

He also made no mention of officially declaring war on Ukraine – a move that many had feared because it could lead to a full mobilisation of Russia’s military reserves or a general conscription, with new recruits poured on to the battlefield in an attempt to achieve victory at any cost.

It could indicate little more than unrealised hype built around a day that – by its nature – is heavy on symbolism but light on action. Or, viewed another way, it could indicate a change of thinking within the Kremlin and perhaps the start of a climb-down after months of sabre-rattling.

Russia attempted to bridge the Donets River to the west of the city of Lysychansk on May 8, apparently hoping to surround Ukrainian defenders dug in there – but were found out and massacred

Newly-released images of the ambush show dozens of destroyed Russian vehicle littering both banks of the river along with sections of pontoon bridge left floating in the water 

The remains of at least three Russian tanks and another four armoured infantry vehicles are seen on one bank of the river, along with other pieces of wreckage poking out from under the water

The massive explosion took place just outside Mariupol in south-eastern Ukraine: Phoenix TV

Ukraine claims its territorial defence troops destroyed the tank using a Swedish-made Carl Gustaf rocket launcher that costs just £18,000

The missile then exploded inside the tank, ripping apart its rear engine compartment with such force that its armour plating was bent outwards

Aside from its battlefield defeats, Russia has been hammered economically and politically over the war  – sliding into the worst recession for three decades as a result of lost trade and sanctions pressure, while also being isolated on the world stage.

Backing from Beijing for the invasion, which seemed almost certain before the fighting broke out, has been half-hearted – Chinese state media has pushed Russian narratives about the world, but its diplomats have also vocally supported Ukrainian sovereignty and abstained from key votes at the UN.

And, on Thursday, Finland’s prime minister and president took the much-anticipated step of saying they are in favour of joining NATO with a formal application expected within days. It comes after Britain and America gave the country guarantees to come to its defence if Russia attacks before membership is ratified.

The move is likely to prompt Sweden, which shares an exposed coast and border with Finland, to follow suit – putting an end to decades of neutrality.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned the country would take retaliatory ‘military-technical’ steps and said the move would ‘inflict serious damage to the Russian-Finnish relations as well as stability and security in Northern Europe.’ 

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, said that ‘there is always a risk of such conflict turning into a full-scale nuclear war, a scenario that will be catastrophic.’ 

But even as the globe-shaking repercussions of the invasion spread, the conflict on the ground slogged on, with Ukraine’s military recapturing some towns and villages in the country’s northeast but acknowledging that Russian forces have seen ‘partial success’ farther south in the eastern industrial heartland of the Donbas.

Western officials say Russia has gained ground and taken some villages but has not managed to seize any cities.

Associated Press reporters heard explosions Thursday and saw plumes of smoke near the town of Bakhmut, an area of the Donbas that has seen heavy fighting. The Ukrainian military said that Russian forces were ‘storming’ two villages near Bakhmut, but the source of the blasts wasn’t immediately clear.

Russian advances in the east follow weeks of their stubborn efforts to push through Ukrainian defenses in the Donbas. It’s unclear how significant the Russian gains have been.

But any gains in the east may have come at expense of territory elsewhere. Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russia’s focus on the Donbas had left its remaining troops around the northeastern city of Kharkiv vulnerable to counterattack from Ukrainian forces, which recaptured several towns and villages around the city.

Still, Russian rocket strikes Thursday killed one person and wounded three in a suburb of Kharkiv, the regional governor said. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has suffered heavy Russian bombardment during the war as Russia sought to encircle it.

Fighting across the east has driven thousands of residents from their homes. Evacuees wiped away tears as they carried their children and belongings onto buses and vans to flee.

Ukraine struck the Moskva – Russia’s Black Sea flagship – with two home-made missiles on April 14, causing it to catch fire and then sink into the body of water it was supposed to be protecting

It is thought that hundreds of sailors went down with the ship, though the exact death toll is unclear because Russia has refused to disclose it or confirm that Ukraine shot the ship

‘It is terrible there now. We were leaving under missiles,’ said Tatiana Kravstova, who left the town of Siversk with her 8-year-old son Artiom on a bus headed to the central city of Dnipro. ‘I don’t know where they were aiming at, but they were pointing at civilians.’

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military also said Russian forces had fired artillery and grenade launchers at Ukrainian troops in the direction of Zaporizhzhia, which has been a refuge for civilians fleeing Mariupol, and attacked in the Chernihiv and Sumy regions to the north.

Overnight airstrikes in Chernihiv killed three people and wounded 12, according to local media citing emergency services. The regional governor said the strikes on the town of Novhorod-Siverskyi damaged a boarding school, dormitory and administrative building.

The military governor of the southern Ukrainian region of Kryvyi Rih accused Russia of using prohibited cluster bombs and phosphorus munitions. The claim could not immediately be verified. Ukraine has previously accused Russian forces of using such munitions in the Donbas, and Ukrainian authorities have launched investigations into their use.

In the southern port city of Mariupol, which has seen some of the worst destruction of the war, Ukraine offered to release Russian prisoners of war in exchange for the safe evacuation of badly wounded fighters trapped inside the Azovstal steel mill, the last redoubt of Ukrainian forces in the ruined city.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that negotiations were underway to release the wounded. She said there were different options, but ‘none of them is ideal.’ Russia hasn’t confirmed any talks on the subject but seems unlikely to agree to any such swap as the release of the fighters would be a major morale boost for Ukraine.

Russia’s forces have taken control of the rest of the city, which they besieged for weeks, as residents ran short of food, water and medicine, though Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the Mariupol mayor, said Thursday that troops have resumed water supplies to two neighborhoods as a test.

‘The occupiers turned Mariupol into a medieval ghetto,’ said Mayor Vadym Boychenko in comments published by City Hall, as he called for a complete evacuation of the city.

Officials said in recent weeks that about 100,000 residents could still be trapped in Mariupol, which had a prewar population of over 400,000. Russian and Ukrainian authorities have periodically agreed to cease-fires to evacuate residents, and repeatedly blamed each other when those efforts failed.

Putin reaffirmed Russia’s determination to ensure territory in the Donbas held by Moscow-backed separatists never returns to Ukraine in a congratulatory message Thursday to the head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic.

On the eve of its invasion, Russia recognized the separatists’ claim to independence in Luhansk as well as in the other Donbas region of Donetsk. Moscow sought to justify its offensive by claiming, without evidence, that Ukraine was planning to attack areas held by separatists and that it intervened to protect people in those regions.

Putin also said Thursday that Russia would withstand tough Western sanctions – imposed in response to the invasion – though he said they were provoking a global economic crisis.

Speaking to officials during a meeting on the economy, Putin said that Western nations have been ‘driven by oversized political ambitions and Russophobia’ to introduce the restrictions that ‘hurt their own economies and well-being of their citizens’ as well as people in the world’s poorest countries.