News of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reported appointment of a Russian general—who was previously fired for his handling of the war in Ukraine—to a top post has sparked bitter in-fighting in the country, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
On Tuesday, Colonel General Aleksandr Lapin, who served as the commander of Russia’s Central Military District until October 2022, was appointed chief of staff of the country’s ground forces, the Russian Defense Ministry told state-run news outlets.
He had been harshly criticized by Putin’s allies—Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the mercenary outfit the Wagner Group—for military setbacks in Ukraine.
In November, Kadyrov sided with Prigozhin in slamming Lapin, who was commander of Russia’s largest military district. He said on Telegram at the time that “tactical and personnel changes are needed” immediately.
Alexander Lapin speaks to journalists from inside a destroyed warehouse in the town of Uqayribat in Syria’s eastern Hama countryside on September 15, 2017. Lapin, who previously served as the commander of Russia’s Central Military District, was appointed chief of staff of the country’s ground forces, the Russian Defense Ministry told state media.
Getty Images/MARIA ANTONOVA/AFP
In a Telegram post, Kadyrov called the general “incompetent” after Russian troops retreated from Lyman in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region in October 2022, and accused him of being “covered from above by the leadership of the General Staff.”
The Chechen leader also alleged that the general wasn’t in the city of Lysychansk when it was seized by his troops—an “achievement” which prompted Putin to award him the title of Hero of Russia on July 4, 2022.
Days later, a pro-Kremlin media outlet reported that Lapin, 58, had been fired.
The ISW, a U.S. think tank, assessed on Tuesday that news of Lapin’s appointment “generated further schisms in the already-fragmented pro-war Russian information space.”
Former militant commander and prominent milblogger (military blogger) Igor Girkin, for example, took to Telegram on Tuesday to say that Lapin’s new role must be “to put it mildly, a misunderstanding” because Russian forces under Lapin’s command suffered major losses in Ukraine’s Kharkiv Oblast.
Girkin said that Lapin represents a “boorish” attempt by the Russian defense ministry to demonstrate their invulnerability.
The ISW noted that a Wagner Group-affiliated Telegram group claimed that Lapin was responsible for the disastrous Bilohorivka river crossing on May 5, 2022, and also blamed the general for the loss of Lyman, a key supply hub in eastern Ukraine.
“Other milbloggers responded more neutrally or even positively, with one suggesting that it was not Lapin but Lieutenant General Roman Berdnikov who was responsible for the loss of Lyman,” the think tank said.
“The lack of consensus on who commanded the Lyman front among the Russian milblogger community further indicates the convoluted state of the Russian chain of command,” the ISW observed.
The think tank suggested that Lapin’s new role will likely “further the divide between the siloviki (members of the elite security services) and affiliated milbloggers and milbloggers who have historically been more favorable to the Kremlin and the Russian MoD.”
It added: “This decision will likely open Russian MoD to more criticism of its intentions and capabilities instead of addressing these concerns.”
Newsweek has reached out to the Russian foreign ministry for comment.