Furious Vladimir Putin sacks top general in charge of the war against Ukraine as he continues 'purge' of top brass following Wagner coup

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has sacked a top general in charge of the war against Ukraine as he continues his purge of the top brass following Wagner’s attempted coup last month.

General Valery Gerasimov, 67, has been ousted as conflict commander less than six months after he was appointed. He has been replaced by Colonel-General Mikhail Teplinskiy, according to Russian media.

The truculent move by Putin – which has not officially been confirmed – is the latest upheaval in the command of his almost 17-month invasion of Ukraine.

During his ill-conceived war, the Russian despot has fired several leaders including Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, also known as ‘The Butcher of Mariupol‘, as well as General Rustam Muradov who was behind the massacre in Vuhledar earlier this year.

Gerasimov will remain in charge of the Russian armed forces as chief of the general staff but overall responsibility for the war now goes to Teplinskiy, 54, commander of the country’s airborne troops, according to The Moscow Times citing military-linked pro-war Z-channels.

It comes after Putin, desperately recovering from Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny last month, is furious and humiliated by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky bringing key commanders of the Azov regiment home from Turkey.

The dictator claims he has been ‘deceived’ over an agreement at the end of the Siege of Mariupol that Azov commander Denys Prokopenko, 32, and his lieutenants would remain in Turkey until the end of the raging war.

Putin is also likely to be further enraged by Zelensky’s visit to the the liberated Snake Island in the Black Sea to mark the 500th day of the war.

The move to fire Gerasimov comes just weeks after Wagner’s armed revolt against Putin’s regime which was instigated by the private mercenary group’s warlord leader Prigozhin, once a close Putin crony.

Earlier this week, Putin hit back as state media leaked images that appeared to show the Wagner chief wearing a set of laughable disguises.

The removal of Gerasimov also coincides with a NATO summit in Lithuania this week which is expected to deepen Western support for Ukraine, and a decision by US president Joe Biden to sanction the supply of controversial cluster bombs to Kyiv.

Rishi Sunak has said Britain ‘discourages’ the use of cluster bombs which are prohibited by 123 countries, including the UK.

Mr Sunak said the UK was signed up to the convention banning their use, and wanted to instead focus on supplying Kyiv with tanks and long-range weapons during their counter-offensive.

Gerasimov has not been seen in public since the mutiny as Putin seeks to pin blame elsewhere for failings in the war.

Nor has his deputy General Sergei ‘Armageddon’ Surovikin, 56, who is rumoured to be incommunicado and under interrogation over his knowledge of the ‘coup’ bid, and tacit support for Prigozhin.

Deputy defence minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov, who met with Prigozhin on the day of the rebellion, is also rumoured to have vanished, and to be in the firing line.

Amid Putin’s desire to regain control, Prigozhin appears too powerful for the Russian president to detain.

Instead of going to Belarus to live in exile – under the terms of an agreement to end the mutiny – he is reportedly openly staying in St Petersburg despite Putin accusing him of treachery.

His force of tens of thousands of Wagner fighters also remain in Russia.

Rybar channel, a popular Russian military blog authored by ex-military translator Mikhail Zvinchuk, claimed that Gerasimov now ‘has nothing to do with military operations’.

Teplinskiy is described as ‘de facto in charge of the [military] operation’, according to The Moscow Times.

Gerasimov’s demise is just the latest of multiple purges of the war high command by Putin.

It was unclear who led the initial invasion of the Ukraine in February 2022 – sparking suspicion that Putin had intended to take acclaim for what he believed would be victory within days.

By April, Alexander Dvornikov, aka the ‘Butcher of Syria’ – was in charge, only to give way to General Gennady Zhidko, who was fired in October, following the surrender of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region.

Surovikin was then put in charge, but he only lasted until January when Gerasimov took over.

Russian fury has greeted the way Zelensky was permitted by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to take home key Azov commanders. Russia paints the Azov command as Nazi.

Humbled Putin claimed via his spokesman that the release ‘violated’ a prisoner exchange agreement, and admitted Moscow was ‘not notified’ officially.

‘No-one informed us about this. According to the agreements, these ringleaders were to remain on the territory of Turkey until the end of the conflict,’ said mouthpiece Dmitry Peskov.

Erdogan – seen by Putin as an ally – also said Ukraine deserved NATO membership.

An elated Zelensky boasted ‘we are returning home from Turkey and bringing our heroes home’.

Azov regiment commanders Denys Prokopenko and Svyatoslav Palamar were on Zelensky’s flight along with Serhiy Volynsky, Oleh Khomenko, and Denys Shleha. They later appeared back on Ukrainian soil in Lviv.

Former Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich was reported to have flown from Turkey to Moscow to act as a broker between the sides.

Prokopenko – a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Ukrainian national guard – made it clear he and the other commanders would now return to the war.

He said: ‘I want to thank Mr President [Volodymyr Zelensky], his team, the defence forces, and every soldier who defended our motherland, and continued to fight the occupiers on the front lines while we were held captive.

‘It’s a huge contribution to our independence and to the fight for our country and its territorial integrity…

‘The most important thing is that the Ukrainian army has seized the strategic initiative on the front line.

‘Every day we are moving forward, destroying the enemy and liberating the temporarily occupied territories.

‘We will do everything possible to speed up this process and bring the war to a conclusion.’

Hardline war supporters in Russia see this as a sign of Putin’s weakness.

‘He let them go to Turkey instead of expunging them, and now he can’t stop them coming back to fight against us,’ said one.