Moscow its top logistics general on Saturday after a series of setbacks as Kremlin-held regions of eastern and southern Ukraine voted for a second day on becoming part of Russia.
The changing of the guard comes amid a major mobilization drive by Russia after the Ukraine invasion revealed widespread logistical difficulties, with Kyiv now taking back more and more territory.
“Army General Dmitry Bulgakov has been relieved of the post of deputy minister of defence” and will be replaced by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, aged 60, the defense ministry said.
The voting on whether Russia should annex four regions of started Ukraine on Friday, dramatically raising the stakes seven months after Moscow’s troops invaded.
Even Beijing, Moscow’s closest ally since the war began in February, reacted.
The voting is being held in Russian-controlled areas of Donetsk and Lugansk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.
For four days, authorities are going door-to-door for four days to collect votes. Polling stations then open Tuesday for residents to cast ballots on the final day. Results are expected as early as late Tuesday or Wednesday.
The four regions’ integration into Russia would represent a major escalation of the conflict as Moscow would consider any military move there as an attack on its own territory.
The snap referendums were announced just this week after a Ukrainian counter-offensive seized most of the northeast Kharkiv region — bringing hundreds of settlements back under Kyiv’s control after months of Russian occupation.
Over 100 apartment blocks in Irpin — dubbed a “hero city” by President Volodymyr Zelensky for holding back Russian invaders — were badly damaged by shelling.
“People don’t have much money, but they agreed” to donate funds to gradually restore the shattered homes, he told AFP.
Putin this week warned that Moscow would use “all means” to protect its territory — which former Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev said on social media could include the use of “strategic nuclear weapons”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has denounced the polls, on Friday calling them “crimes against international law and the law of Ukraine”.
Otherwise, UN investigators on listing Friday accused Russia of committing war crimes on a “massive scale” in Ukraine — bombings, executions, torture and horrific sexual violence.
In eastern Kharkiv region, Ukrainian officials said Friday they had finished exhuming 447 bodies from a site near the city of Izyum, which was recaptured from Russian forces.
“There are bodies with rope around their necks, with their hands tied, with broken limbs and gunshot wounds.”
Originally published as Russia replaces top general, pursues breakaway Ukraine polls