A senior naval commander has reportedly been fired by Vladimir Putin after refusing to commit more of his men to the slaughter in Ukraine. Admiral Sergei Avakyants, 66, was the commander of Russia’s Pacific Fleet before being summarily dismissed from his post last week. He was attending war games involving nuclear bombers, when he received his marching orders from the Kremlin.
A Russian Defence Ministry source tried to play down the significance of the Admiral’s removal, insisting he had decided to retire after a long and distinguished career.
A spokesperson said: “The commander of the Pacific Fleet Sergei Avakyants has reached the retirement age [65 years] and was sent to a well-deserved rest with honours.”
However, others claimed the Admiral was stood down from his command after trying to protect his men from further frontline tours of duty in Ukraine.
He is reported to have grown disillusioned about the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine, after a group of elite marines from his Pacific Fleet were almost totally wiped out in the disastrous attempt to take Vuhledar in February.
At the height of the battle for the eastern Ukrainian town, the Russians suffered high casualty rates and lost over 100 pieces of military equipment including 36 tanks over just three days.
The Pacific Fleet’s 55th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade and 40th Naval Infantry Brigade were particularly affected in the fighting, losing almost all their soldiers.
A surviving marine from the 55th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade told the Russian local media website 7×7 that only eight men out of 100 from one of the units had survived the slaughter.
He said: “I wish I had been taken prisoner and never returned.” Ever since the Vuhledar disaster, Avakyants has stubbornly resisted repeated requests from the Kremlin for more troops from his naval reserves.
A Russian General Staff source said: “He told Admiral Nikolay Yevmenov [Commander-in-Chief of the Navy] in plain language that he would not let the fleet be ruined. His sailors, trained officers, well-coordinated crews, would not be torn apart.”
Avakyants has been replaced by the former head of Russia’s Baltic Fleet, Admiral Viktor Liina.
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The 66-year-old will now head a new organisation managing centres for military training and patriotic education.
These are slated to open in 11 Russian regions and Ukraine’s illegally annexed Donetsk.
Russia has a total of four fleets. The largest is the so-called Northern Fleet, which includes a heavy aircraft carrier and two missile cruisers.
The second largest fleet is the Pacific Fleet, followed by the Black Sea and Baltic fleets.
It comes amid reports that Ukrainian troops have succeeded in gaining a foothold on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, near Kherson city.
Infiltrating the area could be a first step towards trying to dislodge Russians from positions they are using to shell the port city.
Analysts for the US think-tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote in their latest bulletin: “This is the first time ISW has observed reliable geolocated imagery of Ukrainian positions on the east bank along with multi-sourced Russian reports of an enduring Ukrainian presence there.”
According to the ISW, Russian military bloggers said Ukrainian forces had established stable supply lines to their positions and regularly conduct sorties in the area.
A Ukrainian military spokeswoman for the southern region declined to verify the reports.
Natalia Humenyuk told TV channel 24 said: “There is an ongoing military operation that requires informational silence. And when it is allowed we will be sure to notify you.”