Vladimir Putin has fired the Russian general known as ‘The Butcher of Mariupol’ just months after he was put in charge of Moscow’s faltering logistics operations in Ukraine.
Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, 60, oversaw the brutal siege on the port city of Mariupol last year and gave the order to bomb a theatre sheltering hundreds of families in a strike that killed 300 Ukrainian people.
A year on, Mizintsev – known for his brutality and indiscriminate bombing of Mariupol – has now been dismissed as deputy defence minister for war logistics just seven months in the job.
It is not clear if his dismissal is a prelude to a new appointment or a humiliating end to his career.
It was only in September that the notorious Mizintsev was appointed by Putin as a deputy to Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister.
Mizintsev, known as ‘Putin’s favourite’, replaced General Dmitry Bulgakov who was blamed for a string of failings in the Russian war against Ukraine.
Mizintsev’s dismissal was reported today by Russian state TV military correspondent Alexander Sladkov.
But he said the reasons for his axing as deputy defence minister remain unclear.
‘This is my friend,’ said Sladkov. ‘And I respect him a lot. How, what, for what reason – it is difficult to guess. We’ll find out later.’
Last year there were rumours Mizintsev could threaten Shoigu’s role as defence minister.
‘The exact reasons are not yet clear, just as it is not clear whether this is removal from office, a suspension or a transfer to a new place of service,’ Sladkov said.
There is speculation there may be wider changes among Putin’s top brass.
The dictator has conducted repeated purges of his top commanders amid a succession of failures in the war in Ukraine.
Mizintsev oversaw the ruthless and brutal three-month siege of Mariupol, which saw the city levelled and hundreds of civilians killed in missile attacks.
The world watched in horror as Russian forces bombed a maternity hospital on March 9 last year, killing a pregnant woman and her baby, and wounding at least 17 people.
A week later, Russian aircraft again dropped missiles on civilian areas – this time on the Donetsk Regional Theatre in Mariupol, which was housing hundreds of civilians and had ‘children’ written in large white letters outside.
The bombing, believed to have been ordered by Mizintsev, killed 300 people – the deadliest attack against civilians since the war began.
The city was a key target for Russian troops given its strategic location on the Sea of Azov.
Much of Mariupol lay in ruins, and tens of thousands of people had been killed in a city where more than half the pre-war population of some 450,000 have fled.
In response to the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, Mizintsev was sanctioned by Britain and other Western countries for his role in the bombardment.
Mizintsev also led Russian military operations in Syria before the war in Ukraine began.
In his role as defence chief, Mizintsev was also likely to have helped devise Russia’s military strategy in the country – including the bloody siege of Aleppo, which has chilling parallels with the horror inflicted in Mariupol.
Joining Bashar al-Assad in his efforts to re-take Syria from various rebel groups – some of them Western-backed – who had carved up the country between them during the civil war, Russian forces helped the dictator besiege and eventually recapture the north-western city of Aleppo from Free Syrian Army troops.
In total, the battle to re-take the city lasted for more than four years – but the most intense period came in late 2016, when Russian and Syrian forces surrounded the eastern half of the city while 270,000 civilians were still inside and bombed it for months before rolling in troops and tanks to capture it.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights estimates that at least 1,640 civilians were killed during this period, though exact tolls are hard to come by and could be higher. Observers who spoke to the LA Times said the siege was ‘marked by a degree of unparalleled savagery and suffering’ during the entire conflict.
Russian forces used cluster bombs, chemical weapons and incendiary bombs – all of which are banned under international charters – during the siege, often again civilian areas. Evidence emerged that hospitals had been systematically targeted, and were eventually completely destroyed in bombing raids.
Mizintsev was born in 1962 in the village of Averinskaya in Russia’s Volga region. But he studied in Soviet Ukraine at the Kyiv Higher All-Arms Command School.
He served in East Germany, and may know Putin from this period. Putin was a KGB spy in Dresden.
Mizintsev was made a lieutenant general in 2014.
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