There are a lot of rumors floating around that Lieutenant General Andrei Sychevoy (/Sychevoi) was captured on September 8th, dressed as a Lieutenant Colonel, when Ukrainian forces liberated the town of Balakliia. If it is true, it would be a historic coup for Ukraine. Not only is he a Lieutenant General, but he is (or was) commander of the entire Western Military District. That's huge. Unfortunately, I don't believe the individual shown in the video is Sychevoy. There are a large number of reasons I say this, so settle in for a long read:
First, I'd like to address the physical similarities, because that is what everyone is making such a big deal out of. At first glance I can see how they would look similar, but it doesn't hold up on closer inspection. I believe the actual identity of the prisoner is LPR Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Seliverstov:
Please forgive my (lack of) MS Paint skills coming up. But I know how OSINT loves its colored circles, so who am I to deviate from the expected?
Sychevoy's now infamous mole:
Sychevoy has a single, very prominent mole on the left side of his face (purple circle), almost dead even with the center of his mouth. The POW has two possible moles on the left side of his face, either or both of which could just as easily be dirt, scars, or bruising. One of them is above his mouth (yellow) and one below (red).
If we take a look at the POW and compare it to Lt. Colonel Seliverstov we can see that they share the two marks, in the same locations. They also share a scar (blue) just to the left of the mouth, something that Sychevoy does not have:
Looking at a better angle of Seliverstov we can also see that his hairline (orange) juts out to above his eyebrows, before angling back towards the top of his head. This same pattern can be seen on the POW. But if we look at the photos of Sychevoy, we see that his hairline doesn't come anywhere near his eyebrows.
You can stop reading now if you're only here for the physical evidence. I think it is pretty clear from that alone that the POW is likely not General Sychevoy, and is much more probably Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Seliverstov.
While I find the physical evidence pretty compelling, it's only human nature to see what we expect to see. So let's continue with non-physical evidence. First, and perhaps least convincing, is that Russian telegram channels have been saying for weeks that Sychevoy had been relieved of his command due to poor performance. Some even state he was dismissed from the armed forces entirely (and possibly arrested).
In connection with the unsatisfactory results in the conduct of the Special Military Operation, the following generals were dismissed from the RF Armed Forces:
- Lieutenant General Andrei Sychevoy - from the post of commander of the Western Military District;
- Lieutenant General Vladislav Ershov - from the post of commander of the 6th Combined Arms Army of the Western Military District;
- Major General Vyacheslav Gurov - from the post of commander of the 1st Tank Army of the Western Military District;
- Lieutenant General Yakov Ryazantsev - from the post of commander of the 49th Combined Arms Army of the Southern Military District.
If he had been relieved of duty even a few days prior to the Ukrainian push, he wouldn't have been anywhere near the front lines. Armies don't just leave fired generals sitting around their former commands. And if he had actually been removed from the armed forces altogether, he'd almost certainly be facing some repercussions back in Moscow by now.
Location, Location, Location
Assuming reports of his dismissal were incorrect, we still have a problem. The POW was captured outside Kharkiv (near Balakliia according to initial reports). This is not where you're going to find the commander of the entire Western Military District. Maybe back in March he'd have been that close to the front, but not in mid-September. And not when Ukraine was known to be gearing up for a fight. If he were captured in Izyum or Kupyansk it would be one thing, but I haven't seen a single convincing reason for him to have been in Balakliia.
What does make sense if for an LPR Lieutenant Colonel to have been there. The Kharkiv front has had a significant amount of its Russian troops redeployed to the Kherson area. In their place are a whole bunch of LPR / DPR troops to hold the lines. They would be commanded by, you guessed it, Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels.
Similarly, why would the commander of the Western Military District remain in Balakliia a single moment after Ukraine started their push in the area? He wouldn't. He'd be evacuated immediately. An LPR Lieutenant Colonel, on the other hand, would have to stay with his men.
Why A Lieutenant Colonel?
This is what is most puzzling to me about this story. Why in the world would a Lieutenant General want to disguise himself as a Lieutenant Colonel. A General is high enough ranked that he would have significant value as a POW. He'd be a great intel asset, very high value to Russia for a POW swap, very high value to Ukraine to be put on trial, and would bring a lot of publicity (as we see). All of that together means a captured General is going to be treated pretty well, all things considered. Of course, there's a lot there that he would want to avoid, so I can see why he'd want to disguise himself.
Why as a Lt. Colonel, though? They are still high enough ranked to be juicy intel assets worth aggressive interrogation, but not nearly high enough ranked for Russia to bother pulling out any stops to get them back in a swap. High enough ranked to be worth putting on trial, but not high enough ranked for there to be much publicity around their treatment. Disguising himself as a Lt. Colonel would just buy him the worst of all worlds. If he was going to "keep" that much rank, it would be much better for him to just surrender as a Lieutenant General.
Disguising himself as a Private or a Lieutenant would make perfect sense. Yes, it risks being "accidentally" killed while surrendering to a possibly over-zealous Ukrainian unit, but almost guarantees a pretty minimal amount of attention from interrogators and jailers. I know of plenty of instances of high ranking officers attempting to disguise themselves a very low ranking soldiers, but I'm not aware of a single instance where a General decided being seen as a Lieutenant Colonel was to his advantage.
I can't come up with a single reasonable explanation that a Lieutenant General would behave in a way that would result in the situation we currently see. Even by the standards of Russian Generals it would be mind bogglingly stupid. The much simpler explanation is that this POW is, in fact, a Lieutenant Colonel. And it just so happens that there is a known LPR Lieutenant Colonel, who is pretty likely to be in this exact location, who looks much more like the POW than General Sychevoy does. I can't say for sure the POW is Lt. Colonel Alexander Seliverstov, but I think it's pretty clear that the chances he is Lt. General Sychevoy in disguise are pretty low.