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Alexander Lapin, the decorated general Kadyrov blames for Russia’s retreat in Ukraine What we know about Lapin and his troops

Source: Meduza
Egor Aleev / TASS

Story by Meduza. Translation by Emily Laskin.

Colonel General Alexander Lapin has been the commander of Russia’s Central Military District since 2017, and before that he led Russian troops in Syria. By some accounts he has been instrumental in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – Russian president Vladimir Putin awarded him the title of Hero of Russia over the summer – but others, most notably head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, have criticized Lapin harshly, blaming him for the recent Russian retreat in Ukraine. He and his troops are also implicated in incidents of murder, rape, and torture in Ukraine, and some sources say he had a hand in the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014. Here’s what we know about Alexander Lapin.

On October 27, Ramzan Kadyrov had some harsh criticism for the commander of Russia’s Central Military District, Colonel General Alexander Lapin. The head of Chechnya said that Lapin was responsible for defending an area in the northern part of the Donetsk region, where Ukrainian troops recently broke through. The troops sent to help allegedly “couldn’t find Lapin’s fighters for an entire day,” said Kadyrov. He added that Lapin’s troops “are still getting caught” around Rubizhne and Kreminna – demoralized, “without communications, provisions, or ammunition.”

According to Kadyrov, for several days, he has been personally unable to connect with Lapin to discuss what happened: “My guys can’t find him.”

History is repeating itself with the collapse of the Lyman defensive line. One to one.

I have a question: isn’t anyone interested in how Lapin got a star for capturing Lysychansk when he wasn’t even there? No one’s interested in how he managed to give up Lyman and there was no investigation? No one’s interested in how he managed to open a breach for the enemy and, once again, no investigation?

No one’s interested in where he is now? No one’s interested in who’s protecting him so well?

This is not the first time that Kadyrov has publicly criticized General Lapin. The head of Chechnya published a similar post on October 1, shortly after the Russian army left Lyman. At that point Kadyrov called Lapin “talentless” and said that the general, who is in charge of the defense of that sector, didn’t ensure that mobilized fighters from Luhansk had what they needed, and that Lapin himself “sat it out” in Luhansk.

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. 

Not all of the prominent “patriotic” media outlets agree with Kadyrov. The Telegram channel Rybar (which has 1.1 million subscribers) listed Lapin’s merits and shortcomings, and found “that he definitely doesn’t stand out for the worse in any way,” and also that he wasn’t responsible for the failure in Lyman. In Rybar’s opinion, the problem was with units of the Western Military District, which were not combat-ready.

Pro-Kremlin “war correspondent” Yury Kotyonok says his colleagues “have no problems contacting” the general. A video has appeared of the general in a foxhole, allegedly mingling with conscripts, as well as photographs of bombed out forward command posts, from which Lapin allegedly directed subordinates.

What we know about General Lapin

Alexander Lapin (b. 1964) has commanded the Central Military District since 2017. In a note about Lapin’s position, Kommersant quoted an acquaintance of the general saying “his personal qualities contributed to his career growth.” The acquaintance continues: “Unpretentious and industrious, he not only carries out orders but seems to take pleasure from doing so.”

From 2012 to July 8, 2014, Lapin was the commander of the 20th Guards Combined Arms Army, which includes the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade. According to an international investigation, the Buk missile which shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014 came from this brigade’s base near Kursk, to the east of Ukraine. Researchers with online investigations company Bellingcat named Lapin in their report on Russian officers who might be responsible for the crash, noting that the Buk missile left the base as early as the end of June.

Before heading the Central Military District, Lapin was chief of staff of Russian troops in Syria. A Rybar post defending Lapin contains this paragraph on his activities there:

We happened to encounter Lapin personally in Syria, during the first capture of Palmyra. Before our eyes he was dragging these caricatures of Syrian commanders to the front line by the scruff of their necks and smashing their radios against their skulls when they couldn’t report on where their troops had escaped to.

After he was appointed commander of the Central Military District, Lapin periodically appeared in the news about civilian life – when the military restored communications between two settlements in the Altai region after a snowstorm, put out a wildfire, disinfected churches, or supplied oxygen to hospitals caring for COVID-19 patients.

One of the first mentions of Lapin after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine came in a broadcast by Zvedzda (the defense ministry’s television channel) about how Lapin “right at the front” rewarded soldiers “who showed courage and heroism in liberating settlements in the Chernihiv region.” The story aired on March 29, and over the course of the next several days, Russia completely withdrew its troops from northern Ukraine. In addition, BBC’s Russian Service reported that among those Lapin rewarded was his own son, Colonel Denis Lapin.

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In a June 24 briefing, the Ministry of Defense reported that the Army Group Center, under Lapin’s command, had dug “a well-prepared defense” against Ukrainian troops, crushed the enemy, and blockaded Lysychansk. On July 3, Lapin was mentioned again in a report about the Russian encirclement of Lysychansk, and the next day Vladimir Putin named the general a Hero of Russia for his role in capturing the Lysychansk region.

Later the general was mentioned mostly in regular reports about awards to outstanding servicemen in the Central Military District. The last such report came out on August 29 – a few days before a Ukrainian Armed Forces counteroffensive in eastern Ukraine.

Publication Sota put out the last (if you don’t count Kadyrov’s outburst) report about the commander of the Central Military District. According to that publication, a group of mobilized soldiers, who retreated without orders from the front after taking fire for days near Svatove, said that Alexander Lapin ordered their commander back to the front, holding a pistol to his head.

What troops did in Ukraine under Lapin’s command

At the beginning of the Russian invasion, Central Military District units under Lapin’s leadership attacked Kyiv from the east. Unlike units from the Western Military District, Lapin’s troops managed to reach the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, but they were stopped in the city of Brovary. The group couldn’t organize provisions for the advance units: the main forces were tied up in battles over a huge territory stretching from Sumy to Chernihiv.

One of the units which was stopped near Brovary was the 90th Tank Division. Soldiers from that division were stationed in the village of Bohdanivka, among other places; Ukrainian authorities have charged Russian soldier Mikhail Romanov, who was in the village with the division, with rape and murder.

The 90th Tank Division’s work

‘I can do whatever I want to you’ Russian soldiers raped and murdered Ukrainian civilians in the village of Bohdanivka

The 90th Tank Division’s work

‘I can do whatever I want to you’ Russian soldiers raped and murdered Ukrainian civilians in the village of Bohdanivka

Another Central Military District Unit – the 15th “peacekeeping” Brigade – were stationed near Kyiv, in the village of Peremoga. Russian soldiers were later shown to have tortured and killed civilians there. During the retreat at the end of March, part of the brigade came under Ukrainian fire in the village of Nova Basan and sustained heavy losses. 

The ‘peacekeeping’ brigade’s work

‘I knew it was better not to ask’ The story of two soldier’s wives, a Ukrainian priest, and Russia’s murderous ‘peacekeeping’ brigade

The ‘peacekeeping’ brigade’s work

‘I knew it was better not to ask’ The story of two soldier’s wives, a Ukrainian priest, and Russia’s murderous ‘peacekeeping’ brigade

After leaving northern Ukraine, the troops under Lapin’s command went to the eastern part of the country. In May they captured the city of Lyman, in the Donetsk region (the same city which Russia lost again in September). In the same month, Lapin’s subordinates in the 74th Motorized Rifle Brigade made an extremely unsuccessful attempt to cross the Seversky Donetsk river under Ukrainian artillery fire – they lost dozens of pieces of equipment, including tanks, infantry combat vehicles, and engineering vehicles. 

Russian forces captured the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk (for which Lapin was awarded the title Hero of Russia) in the summer. Despite Ramzan Kadyrov’s assertion that Lapin “wasn’t even there,” Central Military District soldiers took part in the operation and, in particular, stormed the Lysychansk oil refinery. After they captured the factory, Ukrainian Armed Forces threatened to encircle Lysychansk and Russians were forced to leave the city.

After Ukrainian troops’ successful advance in the Kharkiv region, Lapin, according to Ukrainian intelligence in mid-September, was assigned control of the Western Military District, which evidently couldn’t handle the defense of the region. With Lapin in command, Russia lost Lyman and the village of Kupyansk-Vuzlovyi – Lapin apparently didn’t have enough forces to defend them.

At the end of October, Lapin was the leading the defense of Svatove, in the Luhansk region.

Story by Meduza

Translated by Emily Laskin

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