Thursday 23 May 2024

The curious, oh-so-Russian tale of General Popov (1)

Popular Popov:  a soldiers' soldier
Way down the rankings on the War in Ukraine pages is the newly-revived story of Russian General Popov, who is now being charged with 'fraud of a particularly extensive nature'.  It's alleged he sold thousands of tonnes of steel, intended for Russian fortifications against the ill-fated 2023 Ukrainian counter-offensive, to a shady metals dealer for over $1m in cash that's been found at his house.  His fall from grace happened late last summer, but at the time it seemed to do with his public complaints that troop rotations weren't being made sufficiently frequently.  No charges were brought back then, nor corruption even mentioned; he'd slid from public attention and been sent to Syria. 

Given that today's backdrop is the recent high-profile 'sideways promotion' of Defence Minister Shoigu, his replacement with an economist known for efficiency, and several other senior officials also being done for corruption of various kinds, it's easy to imagine the new charges against Popov are just part of a traditional changing-of-the guard purge that is so popular with communist and former-communist regimes: happens all the time.  Odd that he was a critic of Shoigu (so why should he go down now, as Shoigu himself falls from favour?) but hey, clearing the decks is clearing the decks.  He probably pissed off others as well.

The reaction from the Russian 'milblogger' fraternity has been very interesting: I.I.Popov is extremely popular, a "soldiers' soldier", credited (by the soldiery, at least) of being the main factor behind the crucial, successful defence of Tokmak on the Zaporizhia front last year.  Here are some typical contributions: 

  • Nothing has yet been proven, and we suspect that Ivan Ivanovich could have suffered for his statements.  It is unseemly to keep one of the heroes of our time behind bars
  • Front line soldiers were greatly demoralized by news of the removal of the "simple" and "relatable" honest General Popov. Yes, perhaps he had his flaws. But in the context of [other] commanders who sacrificed dozens of personnel for the sake of their next "Star of the Hero" medal, Popov clearly stood out for the better
  • The experienced commander, who was doted upon by his subordinates ...  
  • I know for sure that without his hands-on leadership in organizing the defensive lines [in 2023], we would hardly have been ready to meet the Armed Forces of Ukraine at the peak of their power
  • General Ivan Popov is not a thief. He is a soldier. However... we forgive thieves too. Or they don't get imprisoned at all. A soldier cannot always count on this
  • If the investigation proves his guilt, then he must suffer the punishment he deserves, but all the good he has done for the Russian army must be taken into account. He must not be allowed to be made a scapegoat. 
Etc etc.  here are several strands here.  (a) Maybe he's being fitted up (for his temerity to complain about lack of troop rotations);  (b) Maybe he did make off with some steel, but hey, everyone in his position does stuff like that - so what?  (c) Maybe he's too popular for his own good.

(a) is of course entirely possible: we may never know.  Regimes like Russia's do that kind of thing all the time.  In countries with no rule of law, everyone stands in permanent peril of being condemned on trumped-up charges, and those in power never mind reminding people of it from time to time.  I'll return to (b) - a characteristically Russian sentiment - in a second post.

(c) is also interesting: and it's not just in light of the extraordinary Prigozhin mutiny of last year.  Communist and former-communist regimes not only fear the rule of law, they fear the military as a credible alternative source of power.  As soon as WW2 ended, Stalin effectively banished the legendary - and very popular - Zhukov, the clear victor of the eastern front.  Everyone knew why.  The first thing Lenin did after the 1917 revolution was to demobilize the army (even while technically still at war with Germany!), for fear of having armed men loose on the streets.  Here's another telling recent milblog entry on the Popov case: 
A general who makes mistakes, and a popular general who makes mistakes, are two completely different matters from the point of view of 'the system'. Whether he is really guilty of what he is accused of is not so important ...

Poor old Popov.  Keep away from windows and private planes, eh? 



dearieme said...

And helicopters.

Caeser Hēméra said...

Popularity management appears to be a survival skill in the Russian military!

We've also had two updates to the Xmas Quiz this week, with Ten Hag, and od course, Sunak.

Pendant moi, le deluge

Anonymous said...

Propped up a bar in Brussels a few years back with a Brit military type (never said which branch) but we got talking about the fall of the USSR. As the beers flowed, the stories got wilder and wilder. He claimed that in the days after the breakup he was offered various 'surplus' equipment such as submarines. He was duty bound by HMG to follow up and check.

It was a fun night listening to the tall stories. But was always left with the feeling that there was a degree of truth in it. Has anyone been offered some dodgy stuff, cash no questions asked?

Sobers said...

" In countries with no rule of law, everyone stands in permanent peril of being condemned on trumped-up charges"

Hmmm, why do the names Trump and Tommy Robinson suddenly spring to mind?

Nick Drew said...

he was offered various 'surplus' equipment such as submarines ...

when I spent lots of time in Russia (mid-late 90s) I was offered all manner of things but not, I confess, a submarine! Mark you, as a biznessman I probably wasn't thought of as quite in the market for that

post #2 in this thread will be on the Russian view of corruption etc

jim said...

Story suggests there is an entire ecosystem of corruption and back doors to the stores. From little fish to whales. Helps if everyone is at it.

Which all suggests Popov is far from the biggest fish but he has the essential gift of popularity - until he doesn't.

We manage these things rather more quietly here. Russia needs to develop a strong middle class and invest in revolving doors. Same with Africa.

BTW, mate of mine used to do business in Eastern Europe and got taken to 'boot fairs' where all kinds of mil gear was on sale - and I don't mean hats.

Anonymous said...

"Communist and former-communist regimes not only fear the rule of law, they fear the military as a credible alternative source of power."

Hasn't a senior Ukrainian general - THE senior Ukrainian general - been posted to London? Mind, a dangerous place to send him, in days of old London was full of exiled leaders just waiting to become useful to the West again.

I think in the "most corrupt" stakes Ukraine is a couple of lengths ahead.

Did you see the pictures of abandoned "dragons teeth" that should have been part of the Kharkov defensive lines? Presumably someone got paid for building those lines.

Anonymous said...

jim - a friends son was in REME, ended up at one stage doing some scrapping in Afghanistan. But I think he may have been involved in another kind of scrapping as well. Phosphor-bronze bearings I think?

Anonymous said...

dearieme - we put 15 senior anti-terror guys in a Chinook and sent them to Scotland in fog. Fog, mountains and helicopters are never a good combination.

Bill Quango MP said...

I think in the "most corrupt" stakes Ukraine is a couple of lengths ahead.

Not so.
In the world corruption index, the very worst of the so called advanced nations, was Russian Federation. The sort of corruption that allowed a chef to buy a nuclear power plant or all the mining and refining companies in Siberia.

The second worst, was Ukraine.

Anonymous said...

BQ - was that in the 1990s or more recently?

Anonymous said...

One slightly worrying item's come to my attention - apparently a "Ukrainan" missile struck a long-range nuclear early-warning radar in Armavir, apparently in Krasnodar.

Now I bought my supplies of potassium iodide tablets when this all kicked off, you may wish to make a small investment. Being vapourised is one thing, surviving and then having unpleasant cancers quite another. This will only help to prevent one of them, mind.

(If I were Russia I would probably actually leave some cities alone. Birmingham intact might, for example, be more of a liability than an asset.)

Bill Quango MP said...

A campaign launch during a monsoon.
A surprise move to trick the Starmerites. To just launch..going a few weeks early. Filling in the blanks along the way.
Now, the return of National Service. On top of the idiotic, permanent, smoking ban .. for some.

I would suggest that the idea of wrong footing opponents should mean your own ideas have been fully baked, and are ready to roll?

So far all the ‘great right hope’ has done is to demonstrate he has no sensible ideas at all. And Rishi was supposed to be the sensible one.

Another week of this and he will probably find he is the only tory MP who hasn’t already announced they are standing down.

We know Mrs Sunak doesn’t like him being Prime Minister. Doesn’t like politics.
Is his plan to be so awful no one will ever seek his political opinion on any issue, present or future, ever again?

Diogenes said...

Don't worry. Only

* 3,369,600 seconds
* 56,160 minutes
* 936 hours
* 39 days
* 5 weeks and 4 days

to go. Plenty of time for more nonsense from all sides. At least there's the footy, cricket, tennis, racing and holidays.

Anonymous said...

More on the hit to the Russian early warning facility.

I think I'll avoid the road to Fylingdales for a day or two...

Caeser Hēméra said...

@BQ - the whole things has been a poorly managed farce.

Announce it outside, in the rain, whilst almost getting, pardon the pun, drowned out by D-Ream.

Visit the Titanic Quarter, providing some very low hanging fruit for mocking opportunities

Visit a Welsh brewery and talk about the Euros, which Wales failed to qualify for

Now we're on to throwing a policies at a wall, only doing so badly, so that a Norwegian style system is made to sounds like Attlee's National Service, in a poorly disguised attempt to get some Reform votes back, that will fail when they realise it's not the National Service they were thinking of.

Who's writing policy suggestions for them? Armando Ianucci?