The Telegram channel of MP Andrei Gurulev, a member of the State Duma Committee on Defense, has released an audio address apparently recorded by Major General Ivan Popov (call sign “Spartak”), the former commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army of the Southern Military District. Popov claimed that he was removed from command after he voiced grievances “at the highest level” and “addressed all the [army’s] problematic issues.” According to Popov, Sergei Shoigu's order to relieve him of his duties was “fudged up in a single day.”
“Good night, my beloved gladiators, my loved ones, relatives, one family. I had to gather my thoughts, a lot has happened in the last two days. It's safe to say that now. I was put at my disposal, dismissed from my post, Lieutenant-General Lyamin arrived and took command. I am waiting for my further military fate, for its change, for some proposal on my further service.
From the beginning, I have been honest and frank with all the soldiers and commanders, from the lowest ranks to the highest. In our case – right up to the Chief of Staff, Major General Medvedev. I have treated everyone equally, as we all face the same hardships, pain, and challenges. I did not differentiate between ranks. That's why I'm telling you truthfully – In a difficult situation with senior commanders, I had to make a choice: either remain silent and hide what they didn't want to hear, or speak the truth. I had no right to lie on behalf of our fallen friends and soldiers. I addressed all the existing issues in combat and support within the army honestly and directly. I called all things by their proper names. I highlighted the critical problem of the lack of counter-battery warfare, artillery reconnaissance stations, and the mass deaths and injuries of our brothers caused by enemy artillery.
I also raised several other issues at the highest level in a candid and tough manner. As a result, it seems that the senior commanders perceived me as a threat, and quickly fudged up an order from the Minister of Defense to remove me from my position and get rid of me in a single day. As many regimental commanders and division members have said, our army faced an unexpected attack from behind by our own senior leaders, treacherously and despicably decapitating the army at the most difficult and tense moment.”
The day before, on July 11, a Storm Shadow missile struck the Dyuna (“Dune”) hotel in occupied Berdyansk in southern Ukraine, where the command headquarters of the Russian 58th Army was supposedly located, killing Lieutenant General Oleg Tsokov. Tsokov’s death marked the highest-ranking Russian casualty since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
A number of Telegram channels reported a theory suggesting that Tsokov’s death was unintended, and that Major General Popov should have been the real target – according to this theory, the Russian army command employs these methods to eliminate individuals they consider undesirable. The channels alleged Tsokov was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
According to the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Popov was dismissed from his position as commander of the 58th Army for reporting to General Staff head Valery Gerasimov about the urgent need to rotate units that had been on the front line for an extended period (it was the positions of the 58th Army – in particular the 42nd Motorized Rifle Division – that had been storming the Ukrainian forces in the Zaporizhzhia area for over a month). Gerasimov allegedly responded with anger, accusing Popov of blackmail (due to his threat to directly approach Vladimir Putin) and alarmism.