An unconfirmed photo of a retired Russian general in Vladimir Putin’s army has sparked speculation amid reports that Moscow is deploying retired personnel in the war against Ukraine because of combat losses.
A senior intelligence source told the Daily Star on Sunday that Putin ordered 67-year-old General Pavel back to active service last month to lead Russian special forces operating in Ukraine.
The source said Pavel had retired from active service five years ago and had been living in a Moscow suburb until he was called back to lead a unit after a former commander sustained serious injuries in an artillery strike.
An image purportedly of the retired general has gone viral on social media, with Twitter users, including U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican, poking fun at his appearance and his weight.
“Putin is now scraping the barrel,” the senior intelligence source said. “Most of his best and battle-hardened senior commanders have been killed or injured fighting in Ukraine so he is resorting to sending second rate officers to the front who don’t last very long.”
“He is now dragging generals out of retirement and one of those is General Pavel,” the source continued.
“Putin is like a mafia boss who no one can refuse to obey. If a retired general gets a message from Putin saying mother Russia needs you to fight in Ukraine there is not much you can do. There is now escape from Russia thanks to the sanctions.”
Newsweek has been unable to independently verify the Daily Star’s report, published on June 25, or the identity of the man in the photograph, but a search showed the image has been circulating online since at least June 5.
The photo also went viral as part of a Reddit thread, which challenged internet users to photoshop the image.
According to the news outlet, the general was a soldier for more than 40 years and became a commander of Russia’s special forces. He also served in Syria and spent some time deployed in Afghanistan.
The source said both Russia and Ukraine are sustaining a lot of casualties and war stocks of ammunition are “running at very low rates.”
“Russia has also lost a large number of tanks and armoured vehicles and these are complex pieces of equipment which cannot be easily replaced,” the source said.
The U.K. Ministry of Defence said in a daily intelligence update on Friday that Russia is being forced to deploy retired pilots to operate warplanes because of high casualty numbers.
Russia has moved to using retired personnel who are now working as contractors for Wagner, a Russian private military company, to conduct close air support missions, the ministry said.
Newsweek contacted Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.