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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Impatient Kremlin Gets Fresh Generals

The Defense Ministry's explanation is that a mere "rotation of command personnel" is under way, but the removal of two senior generals from command of Russian forces in Chechnya more likely signals Kremlin dissatisfaction.

Lieutenant General Gennady Troshev, who heads the eastern group of forces in Chechnya, and Major General Vladimir Shamanov, who heads the western group, have been ordered to hand their commands over to their deputies.

General Sergei Makarov now commands the eastern group, and General Alexei Verbitsky the western.

A Defense Ministry spokesman said in a telephone interview Monday that Troshev and Shamanov had been ordered to focus on their "main duties." For Troshev that means a renewed emphasis on his duties as first deputy commander of the North Caucasus Military District, he said, and for Shamanov the command of that district's 58th army.

The spokesman said new generals will probably soon be dispatched from the Armed Forces General Staff in Moscow to replace acting commanders Makarov and Verbitsky. "This rotation has nothing to do [with the conduct of Troshev and Shamanov in Chechnya]," the spokesman said, adding that the two generals are "returning to their main duties" to allow other commanders to gain "invaluable combat experience."

But that same day, Colonel General Viktor Kazantsev - the commander of joint forces in Chechnya - told reporters in Mozdok that Troshev and Shamanov officially remain in command of the eastern and western groupings. Kazantsev said generals Makarov and Verbitsky are simply holding acting commands for their bosses.

Acting President Vladimir Putin told reporters Saturday that Shamanov and Troshev, who have both been recently awarded Hero of Russia medals, are being promoted. Putin did not elaborate on the nature of the promotion. Military analysts speculated that the generals are actually being punished because the Russian campaign has stalled.

"Apparently [Troshev and Shamanov] did not seem to be moving fast enough" for Moscow, said Alexei Malashenko, an expert on the Caucasus at the Moscow Carnegie Center - noting that speed was a concern given plans for a March 26 presidential election.

Troshev and Shamanov have enjoyed positive media coverage - stealing some of the thunder from Putin and other leaders - which may have also contributed to their fall, said Dmitry Trenin, senior military analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center.

"By removing them, Putin has showed the armed forces who is their commander-in-chief," Trenin said.

Both Trenin and Colonel Charles Blandy of the Conflict Studies Center in Sandhurst, Britain, speculated that the alleged massacre of more than 40 civilians in Alkhan-Yurt - a village in Shamanov's jurisdiction - could have contributed to Shamanov's fall.

Yet whatever the reasons, Blandy and Malashenko saw the removal of two battle-experienced generals as a possible minus for Russian troops - who this weekend were putting up a beleaguered defense against some of the harshest Chechen counterattacks of the war.

Both said the two generals have gained invaluable experience commanding under real combat conditions. Trenin, however, countered that their two replacements, Makarov and Verbitsky, have much the same experience to draw upon.