Ukraine appears to be gunning for a top Russian battlefield commander who has had an unusual run as a military leader

  • A top Russian commander was recently appointed to oversee forces in the southern region.

  • Col. Gen. Mikhail Teplinsky assumed control over Moscow's "Dnepr" grouping of forces.

  • Ukraine appears to be gunning for him as Kyiv's military makes pushes in his area of control.

Ukrainian forces appear to be gunning for a top Russian battlefield commander who's now in charge of an area that's seen a significant uptick in fighting.

Col. Gen. Mikhail Teplinsky, the commander of Moscow's Airborne Forces, or VDV, was recently appointed to oversee the "Dnepr" grouping of forces operating around the southern Kherson region. Several prominent Russian military bloggers and independent Russian media reports said the Ukrainian military fired long-range missiles last week at the Dnepr battlegroup's headquarters.

The Russian milblogger account Rybar said on November 1 that Ukraine launched Storm Shadow cruise missiles and Neptune anti-ship missiles modified for land attack at a target in Strilkove, a small village in the Kherson region that's right along the Sea of Azov.

Rybar wrote on Telegram that half the missiles were intercepted by Russian air-defense systems, while the others hit local buildings. Moscow's defense ministry said the following day that it had shot down four Storm Shadow missiles and three Neptune missiles in the Kherson direction.

Another prominent milblogger Telegram account, Two Majors, said Ukraine attacked the Dnepr group's headquarters on November 1 because Kyiv's military was attempting to cross the Dnipro River. The independent Russian publication Astra reported that Ukrainian missiles hit command posts belonging to the Dnepr group in Strilkove that same day. It was not immediately clear how many Russian soldiers could have been injured in the reported strikes.

A soldier using binoculars.
A Ukrainian military member checking the area at a position outside the southern city of Kherson earlier this month.Photo by ROMAN PILIPEY/AFP via Getty Images

These widely reported strikes on the Dnepr group's headquarters may reflect efforts to target Teplinsky, the newly appointed general there, because of his role as a military leader and the battlefield significance of the area he now commands. As the Russian military bloggers noted, the timing of the strikes fell in line with an uptick in Ukrainian assaults around the Dnipro.

Teplinsky — a longtime favorite among Russia's ultranationalists who the British defense ministry said "received praise in Russia as a capable and pragmatic commander" — oversaw successful combat operations in Ukraine last fall but was later dismissed from his leadership role, resulting in a certain degree of insubordination from the commander.

Despite these issues and the decision to voice frustrations directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Teplinsky was eventually brought back into a position of authority earlier this year, though it wasn't long before things got rocky again.

The airborne commander was known to have had ties with the Wagner Group, the ruthless mercenary organization that staged a short-lived rebellion against Russia's military leadership in June. In the aftermath of the chaotic mutiny, it was rumored that Teplinsky would be arrested amid the reactionary high-level purges that were taking place throughout the Kremlin.

A recent analysis from the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Russian military bloggers first said on October 29 that Teplinsky had replaced Col. Gen. Oleg Makarevich as the commander of the Dnepr grouping of forces. Russia's state-run agency TASS reported on the turnover the following day, citing "a source in defense circles."

Elite Ukrainian naval forces raiding a Russian-occupied island in the Dnipro river.
Elite Ukrainian naval forces raiding a Russian-occupied island in the Dnipro river.The Command of the Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine/Facebook

Britain's defense ministry wrote in an October 31 intelligence update on Teplinsky's new appointment that this particular battlegroup was responsible for Russian-occupied territory in the southern Kherson region, including the eastern bank of the Dnipro River. It added that he was "likely held in high regard" by Moscow's military leadership and had experience commanding in the area, including being in charge during the successful Russian withdrawal there last November.

Fighting, meanwhile, "has intensified in this area in recent weeks as Ukrainian forces have contested Russian control of the river's eastern bank," Britain's defense ministry said, adding that "it is almost certain that repelling Ukrainian attacks across the Dnipro and holding territory in occupied Kherson Oblast remains a high priority objective for Russian forces in Ukraine."

Ukrainian forces have, in recent weeks, been stepping up assaults across the river, which more or less separates Russian-occupied territory from land held by Kyiv in the southern part of the country. War analysts have suggested that the assaults are larger than Kyiv's normal operations that have taken place there in the past.

"Teplinsky's appointment is likely an indication of increased pressure on Russian forces defending the area," Britain's defense ministry said in late October. Territorial control mapping from the ISW as of Monday night local time showed Moscow's troops were still maintaining solid control over the eastern bank of the Dnipro around the city of Kherson.

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