Alexander Lapin has led Army Group Center during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, even being awarded the title “Hero of Russia” over the summer for his role in the capture of Lugansk in eastern Ukraine, according to Meduza. While largely absent from the public eye for much of the war, he suddenly became a “lightning rod” of popular anger, directed primarily by Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, following disastrous Russian territorial losses during the Ukrainian Kharkiv counteroffensive in September.
Rumors of Lapin’s dismissal from his position started circulating in late October, before an apparent confirmation by different Russian sources, and U.K. intelligence on Sunday. The Russian Ministry of Defense claims he is only going on a temporary vacation, however, according to URA.RU.
Lapin, a veteran commander of fighting in Syria and leader of Russia’s Central Military District, led a contingent of forces during the February invasion of Ukraine from the north, according to the Russian open source intelligence Telegram channel Rybar, then a large army group in the northern Donbas region. His forces reportedly played key roles in the capture of Lugansk, the first full Ukrainian province to come under total Russian control. Though he was blamed for the collapse of the Kharkov front in September, Rybar disputes this, claiming he is only a sacrificial lamb at which to direct public anger.
A mobilized Moscow resident claimed in a formal complaint that Lapin personally threatened a group of retreating conscripts with a pistol after they retreated without orders to do so, according to the independent outlet SOTA.
On Oct. 1, amid the Ukrainian recapture of the strategically important city of Lyman, Kadyrov unleashed a tirade against the commander, blaming him for the loss.
“It’s not shameful that Lapin is talentless. It’s that he’s protected from above by leaders on the General Staff. If it were up to me, I’d demote Lapin to a private, strip his awards, and send him to the front with a gun in his hands so he could wash away his disgrace with blood,” Kadyrov said.
He later claimed that Lapin was avoiding him and that no one knew where he was.
“As for Colonel General Lapin, for the past few days I have been trying to establish contact with him through my special forces commanders. But my guys can’t find him. Shouldn’t the commander be in place and in touch with his colleagues?” he said in an Oct. 27 Telegram post, adding that soldiers under Lapin were demoralized and starving because they were unable to get in touch with him.
In the days that followed Kadyrov’s condemnation of the general, a source in the Ministry of Defense told the Moscow Times that Lapin had been dismissed from his post, a claim that was backed up by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. Lt. Gen. Andrey Mordvichev replaced Lapin as head of Army Group Center, an ISW analysis from Nov. 1 claimed, though a formal announcement hasn’t yet been made from the Kremlin. A U.K. intelligence briefing from Sunday also claimed Lapin was dismissed from his position.
The Ministry of Defense appears to deny claims of Lapin’s dismissal. The ministry’s press service told the regional outlet URA.RU that Lapin is taking a temporary vacation to Yekaterinaberg and that Mordvichev will only occupy his position until his return. His duties as Russia’s Central Military District commander (different from Army Group Center in Ukraine) will be temporarily occupied by Major Gen. Alexander Linkov.
If confirmed, Lapin’s dismissal would mark the latest of several shake-ups in Russia’s military high command amid setbacks in Ukraine.