Hudson Institute

What the Resignation of General Ivan Popov Tells Us about Russia’s War in Ukraine

Senior Fellow (Nonresident)
A Ukrainian artilleryman carries a 155 mm shell to fire a M777 howitzer toward Russian positions near Avdiivka in the Donetsk region on June 23, 2023. (Genya Savilov/AFP via Getty Images)

In this special edition of the Ukraine Military Situation Report, Hudson Senior Fellow Can Kasapoğlu assesses the resignation of Russian General Ivan Popov.

What the Resignation of General Ivan Popov Tells Us about Russia’s War in Ukraine

General Ivan Popov—commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army, which helps Russia maintain stability in the Caucasus and serves crucial roles in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—has quit. He reportedly left an audio message in which he harshly criticizes the Russian military leadership—specifically Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov. Highlighting the incompetencies of the Russian high command, Popov accused Shoigu of treason, echoing Wagner’s rhetoric that eventually turned into a short-lived revolt. 

Popov’s resignation offers telling signs about Russia’s war against Ukraine. The disgruntled general complained about mounting Russian casualties in the face of Ukrainian artillery salvos, explaining that Russia lacks sufficient counter-battery fire capabilities to respond to Ukrainian artillery. 

Notably, evidence corresponds with Popov’s complaints. During the counteroffensive, Ukraine has lost more heavy armor than Russia (Hudson Institute’s Ukraine Military Situation Report explained why previously). However, the artillery duel has been different. During its counteroffensive in the south, the Ukrainian Armed Forces appear to enjoy a 1:4 upper hand in principal howitzer losses. In other words, for every howitzer Ukraine loses, Russia loses four. This competitive edge is the product of Ukraine’s modern artillery kill chain, which is supported by counter-battery radars and spotter drones, as well as better fire-support systems that came from NATO nations’ generous military assistance packages. Cluster munitions for the Ukrainian artillery will widen this gap and further bleed the Russian artillery formations. 

Politically, Popov’s move is important since high-ranking security and military officials in Russia rarely make vocal protests. Wagner seems to have exacerbated a dangerous trend in the contemporary Russian Federation. 

Popov’s case hints at the deepening fault lines and growing tensions within the Russian Armed Forces. While Wagner’s mutiny did not reach Moscow, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s message is still alive: the invasion is not going well, and commanders are increasingly angry at the Shoigu and Gerasimov—who hold their posts thanks to their loyalty to Vladimir Putin, not their warfighting prowess. 

Worrisomely for the Kremlin, while Shoigu and Gerasimov have been in the crosshairs, the Russian military’s mounting resentment may turn to Vladimir Putin, especially should the Ukrainian counteroffensive deliver meaningful territorial gains. 

Decades ago, the siloviki elite of Russia, hailing from the ranks of the Soviet intelligence services, reined in Russian oligarchs after the Boris Yeltsin era. However, no one knows how a showdown between the siloviki and the Russian military, against the backdrop of a defeat in the former Soviet space, might unfold. 

Such a grim drift could bring the nation to the brink of a civil war at NATO’s doorstep. While a Russian civil war was almost unimaginable a couple of years ago, a private military company on steroids, Wagner, recently intercepted six Russian helicopters and one Il-22 command-control aircraft in Russian airspace, while seizing control of the Southern Military District headquarters and the city of Rostov for 24 hours without resistance from the local population. 

Overall, a decisive Ukrainian victory might lead to a large-scale military mutiny in the Russian Federation. This would trigger a series of falling dominos, potentially spiraling into the final collapse of the Soviet Union—as Hudson Institute writings anticipate.

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