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UK intelligence is assessing rumors that Putin fired his top general, which Russia has angrily denied

Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a ceremony to award Gold Star medals to Heroes of Russia, in Moscow, December 8 2022Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu at a ceremony in Moscow, December 8 2022.

Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Pool via Reuters

  • Both US and UK Russia-watchers have noted widespread rumors of the firing of a top Russian general.
  • The UK’s MOD said speculation about Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov couldn’t be verified. 
  • Russia’s MOD denied it and appears highly sensitive to ongoing reports of top-level power struggles.

In an intelligence update on Wednesday, the UK’s Ministry of Defence pointed to rumors on social media that Russia’s top general had been fired.

“Rumours circulating on social media within the last 48 hours suggesting that Russian Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov could have been fired cannot be verified,” said the UK MOD’s update.

“However, factional tensions likely extend to the top of Russia’s military hierarchy,” it continued. 

Russia’s monthslong struggle to make headway in its invasion of Ukraine has roiled the upper ranks of the Russian military, and seen numerous power changes — but none so sweeping as a rumored ouster of Gerasimov, its top officer.

The chatter about Gerasimov was also noted by US think tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which said they originated from within the networks of Russia’s hyper-nationalist military bloggers.

The matter attracted a denial from Russia’s Ministry of Defense on Sunday, which said that President Vladimir Putin had not fired Gerasimov, and that there were no grounds for doing so.

In the post, the MOD branded as “fake” the idea that Gerasimov was to be ousted, providing several photos of the general on official duties alongside Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu dated to last week.

The gallery of images shared on Telegram to support the Russian MOD's claim that Chief of the General Staff of Russia's Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov is still in post.The gallery of images shared on Telegram to support the Russian MOD’s claim that Chief of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov is still in post.

Russia MOD/Telegram

The ministry did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for additional comment. 

In a Monday analysis, the ISW compared the scope of the denial to that offered in the face of similar rumors about the firing or sidelining of Shoigu, which have surfaced several times throughout the war. 

Per the ISW, the denial “stopped short of offering the kind of credible support for this denial that it has provided” for Shoigu. 

In Shoigu’s case, the ministry assiduously shared video evidence that he is still in post, ISW said. 

Nonetheless, the denial suggests Russia’s MOD is sensitive to reports of any schism in its elite leadership, the ISW said.

The ministry likely wants to “counteract reports of massive disruptions and incoherencies in Russian command structure due to widespread failures in Ukraine,” per the analysis.

Reports of power struggles in the Kremlin have circulated for weeks, particularly since Ukraine’s rapid retaking of vast occupied areas in the fall. The failures have fueled intense criticism from Russia’s hawkish military commentators. 

In October, Russian businessman and Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky described two factions emerging within Russia’s military elite, as Politico reported

They comprised Shoigu and Gerasimov on one side, with Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov and Wagner Group founder Evgeny Prigozhin on the other, per Khodorkovsky. 

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