A former commander of Russian forces in Ukraine has likely returned to the war-torn country as “intense tensions” develop among Russia’s top military figures, according to a new assessment.
General Colonel Mikhail Teplinsky, who served as the commander of Russia’s VDV, the airborne forces branch of the Russian military, was removed from Moscow’s operations in Ukraine in January 2023, which Western analysts noted at the time.
Writing in an update on Sunday, the ministry said Teplinsky, who has been decorated by the Kremlin, had “highly likely returned to a major role” in Ukraine. Teplinsky had held his previous position since June 2022.
Teplinsky’s “recent turbulent career” indicates “intense tensions between factions within the Russian General Staff about Russia’s military approach in Ukraine,” the British government department said in its daily briefing on Twitter.
At the time of his removal in January, Western analysts described it as a “fracture” in the Russian defense ministry.
Teplinksy’s dismissal as VDV commander in favor of Lieutenant General Oleg Makarevich highlighted differences between those backing the then-new theater commander, General Valery Gerasimov, and parts of the influential Russian milblogger community, the Institute for the Study of War think tank said on January 21.
The move showed “continued divisions” as Gerasimov looked to “impose his personal authority on the campaign” in Ukraine, the British defense ministry added on January 24.
In Sunday’s update, the U.K. ministry described Teplinsky as “one of the few senior Russian generals widely respected by the rank-and-file.”
The newly reinstated commander will likely oversee more than just VDV units, it continued, although he is expected to champion the airborne troops’ “traditional role as an elite force.”
Earlier in April, Ukraine’s military said Russia had sent elite troops, including airborne forces, to support Wagner Group mercenary fighters and regular troops fighting in Bakhmut. The eastern Donetsk city has seen some of the fiercest clashes since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, racking up heavy casualty counts on both sides.
Russia’s defense ministry said Saturday that airborne troop units had pinned down Ukrainian forces and were supporting the actions of assault detachments to capture the city.
Bakhmut remains an “epicenter of hostilities,” Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces said Sunday, adding that Kyiv’s fighters had repelled Russian attacks over the previous 24 hours.
VDV forces were given TOS-1A thermobaric rocket launchers for the “first time in their history,” Russia’s defense ministry said earlier in April. The airborne forces have likely used them around the Luhansk city of Kremina, the British defense ministry said on Sunday.
Newsweek has reached out to the Russian defense ministry for comment via email.