President Vladimir Putin fired the commander of Russian military forces in war-torn Chechnya tonight, one day after a defiant Col. Gen. Gennady Troshev publicly rebuffed Russia's defense minister by announcing his refusal of a new assignment in Siberia.
Troshev's highly unusual move -- called close to mutiny by a veteran military observer here -- came at a time of disappointment for the Russian government with its progress in the Chechen war, where troops under Troshev's command have battled rebels to a standoff after three years of combat in the separatist republic.
Putin replaced Troshev as commander of the North Caucasus military district, which includes Chechnya, with the general whose job Troshev was to have taken in Siberia, Col. Gen. Vladimir Boldyrev. Troshev made no public statement; a Defense Ministry source told the Russian news agency Interfax that the recalcitrant general's future was still being sorted out.
Troshev, who received the title "Hero of Russia" for his role in Chechnya, had been in charge of the troops there since the latest war began in 1999 -- a conflict that continues to claim the lives of Russian soldiers on a daily basis despite repeated Russian claims of victory. But he was publicly reprimanded by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov this summer, after Chechen rebels shot down an overloaded Russian helicopter, resulting in 119 deaths. Before Putin fired Troshev tonight, Russian political leaders spent the day criticizing the general, calling his behavior inappropriate and questioning whether he had a political reason for refusing the order from his superiors.
"I am sincerely sorry that he conducted himself, from my point of view, improperly for an army man. Absolutely improperly," said Sergei Stepashin, a former Russian prime minister. "If you disagree with the minister's decision and you are an army man, an officer -- take off your shoulder straps and get yourself elected a State Duma deputy, and then criticize it."
According to military analysts and Russian media reports, Troshev's political aspirations may have prompted his removal in the first place. Troshev, a frequently quoted figure and author of his own war memoir about Chechnya, has increasingly weighed in on the political issues surrounding the war and has often been talked about as a possible gubernatorial candidate.
"I'm sure he'll go into politics," said Aslanbek Aslakhanov, a member of the Duma from Chechnya who suggested that Troshev, who was born in the Chechen capital of Grozny during Soviet times, could run for president of the republic. It's "very likely," Aslakhanov told Interfax, that Troshev would run for office in the place "where he fought, where he is from, and where he has a certain number of supporters."
A leading Russian reformist politician, Boris Nemtsov, called Troshev's public rebuff of the defense minister "absolutely intolerable," but said that more than a year ago he had suggested that Troshev run for president of Chechnya.