The Ukrainian defence ministry has a released audio from a call which it claims captured two Russian officers lamenting the death of a top general and the collapse of its secure communications network in Ukraine.
In the call—which has been verified by Bellingcat, the fact-checking group known for exposing Kremlin misinformation—two purported Russian FSB officers are heard discussing the death of a general killed in fighting near Kharkiv, which has been hammered by shelling this month.
Ukraine’s defence ministry named the general as Vitaly Gerasimov, chief of staff of the 41st Army, and Bellingcat reported that it had confirmed the death with Russian sources. In its statement, Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency said Gerasimov had been “liquidated” alongside “a number of senior Russian army officers” in fighting near Kharkiv.
If Gerasimov’s death is confirmed, he would be the second Russian general to be killed in Ukraine within a week following the death of the 41st Army’s deputy commander, Andrei Sukhovetsky. A pro-Putin Chechnyan general, Magomed Tushayev, was also reported to have been killed.
Russia’s failure to protect its top-ranking officers backs up reports from Ukraine that the Kremlin’s invasion force is in disarray. On the call released by the Ukrainian defense ministry, one FSB officer can be heard complaining that its encrypted comms system had been destroyed, allowing Ukrainian forces to listen in on Russian military orders.
Bellingcat’s executive director, Christo Grozev, wrote: “In the phone call in which the FSB officer assigned to the 41st Army reports the death to his boss in Tula, he says they’ve lost all secure communications. Thus the phone call using a local sim card. Thus the intercept.”
Grozev went on: “His boss, who makes a looong pause when he hears the news of Gerassimov’s death (before swearing), is Dmitry Shevchenko, a senior FSB officer from Tula. We identified him by searching for his phone (published by Ukrainian military Intel) in open source lookup apps… In the call, you hear the Ukraine-based FSB officer ask his boss if he can talk via the secure Era system. The boss says Era is not working.”
Grozen reported that Russia’s cryptophones may no longer work in Kharkiv because Russian forces had destroyed surrounding cell phone towers, and Russia’s encrypted comms system operates using 3G or 4G.
The statement released by Ukraine’s military intelligence agency alluded to severe communications problems among Russian forces, saying: “The data obtained also indicate significant problems with communication in the occupier’s army and with the evacuation of their broken units.”
Russia has not commented on reports of Gerasimov’s death.