Fact Check: Was ‘Fired’ Russian General’s Body Found in Moscow River?

10/31/22

Russian President Vladimir Putin makes a toast during a reception at the Grand Kremlin Palace on June 26, 2013. The insert shows General Alexander Lapin, commander of the Russian Armed Forces’ Central Military District. Unsubstantiated rumors about Lapin’s death began circulating on social media recently.SASHA MORDOVETS/GETTY IMAGES/RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY OFFICIAL PAGE

Reports that the body of Alexander Lapin, a decorated general who led Russian troops in Syria and, this year, in Ukraine, was found in a Moscow river were shared over the weekend by several news outlets and went viral on social media.

Lapin, who has been the commander of the Russian Armed Forces’ Central Military District since 2017, was earlier reported to have been removed from his position. This news came after the general was the target of criticism from the increasingly influential coalition of Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the Chechen Republic, and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary force of mercenaries.

Both men are known to be close allies of President Vladimir Putin, but they have been increasingly at odds with the Russian Defense Ministry and military chiefs, amid reports of infighting in Putin’s close circle.

Rumors of Lapin’s sacking emerged in late October, initially cited by a local news outlet from the Chechen capital, Grozny, as well as multiple pro-Kremlin Telegram channels including Grey Zone.

Sources for The Moscow Times and the newspaper RBC later corroborated those claims, which have not yet been addressed by the Kremlin directly. Another news outlet suggested the general was simply “on vacation.”

However, those reports were soon followed by even more grim “news”—that Lapin’s body had been retrieved from the Moskva River in the Russian capital.

The Claim

The first example of the claim (archived here) appeared on Ukrainian news outlet Channel 24, whose report (translated from Ukrainian) said: “The body of General Lapin, who commanded the occupiers in the East, was retrieved from the Moscow River.”

“Medics and rescuers were reportedly working on the spot,” the report added. It cited its contacts in Ukraine’s “intelligence apparatus” as the source for the claim.

Several Ukrainian- and English-language outlets went on to pick up the claim, which also began to spread on social media, mostly attributed to Channel 24.

Among those repeating the unverified claim was British tabloid The Sun, as did multiple low-profile news sites.

The Facts

The claim that Lapin’s body was “retrieved from the Moskva River” is baseless. There is no evidence supporting the report of his death, as of Monday.

The primary source of the claim appears to be the Sergej Talk, a pro-Ukraine Twitter account of a Latvia-based professor who has been known to tweet unverified information.

In a tweet on October 29, Talk said: “TASS [Russian state media agency]. The body of former General Alexander Lapin was found in the Moskva River. Police officers and defense ministry operatives are investigating at the scene.”

However, there is no evidence that Tass, the Russian government’s news agency, had published such a story. The last article mentioning Lapin on the Tass website is dated August 29 and refers to an official ceremony where he handed out medals to Russian soldiers who fought in Ukraine.

Likewise, no other state-affiliated or independent outlets have made any recent mention of Lapin’s body being discovered, in a river or elsewhere.

It is not clear whether the tweet was deliberate misinformation or a crude joke that perhaps referenced the trend of mysterious deaths of Russian oligarchs and former government officials since the start of the Ukraine war.

Regardless, the claim appears to be entirely unfounded, and the reports based on it were later retracted by both Channel 24 and The Sun.

While it remains to be seen whether the report about Lapin’s removal from Russia’s military leadership is confirmed by the Kremlin, the rumors of his demise are not rooted in fact.

Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry for comment.

The Ruling

False.

The claim that Lapin’s body was discovered in a river is unsubstantiated. The original reports were based on a misleading tweet and were later retracted.

While there are numerous and, so far, unverified reports, including those from by pro-Kremlin outlets, suggesting that Lapin resigned or was removed from his command, there is no evidence to suggest that he is no longer alive.

FACT CHECK BY NEWSWEEK

https://www.newsweek.com/fact-check-was-fired-russian-generals-body-found-moscow-river-1755746

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