New military reorganization in Russia: the head of the armed forces receives the ‘poisoned chalice’

(CNN) — Russia’s Defense Ministry announced another adjustment of the commanders leading the war in Ukraine on Wednesday, as criticism mounted over its handling of the stalled campaign.

He said that General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, would become the commanding general of the campaign, and the current commander, Sergey Surovikin, would become one of his three deputies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Valery Gerasimov during the annual meeting of the Defense Ministry board in Moscow on December 21, 2021. (Sergei Guneyev/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

Surovikin was appointed commanding general of what the Kremlin euphemistically calls the “Special Military Operation” as recently as October.

In terms of the bureaucratic hierarchy, the announcement is not a disorder. Surovikin has already informed Gerasimov.

“The generals move, they shuffle from the Front to the General Headquarters. From headquarters to the front,” Russian television commentator Sergey Markov said on Telegram on Wednesday.

“Surovikin is not being penalized and Gerasimov is not being penalized. It’s a whole team. Well, of course with the competition, which always happens among the best”.

But the decision brings Gerasimov, who has been chief of staff for more than a decade, closer to direct supervision of and responsibility for the campaign. While Gerasimov was a key figure in the planning of the invasion, he appears to have been on the sidelines ever since, with only one reported visit to the campaign command inside Ukraine, although this was also not confirmed by the Defense Ministry.

Mark Galeotti, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said “it’s kind of a downgrade [para Gerasimov] or at least the most poisoned of chalices. Now it’s up to him, and I suspect Putin again has unrealistic expectations.”

Gerasimov has sometimes gone weeks without public appearances and was not seen at the Victory Day parade in Moscow last year, which at the time raised speculation about his position.

Now he combines direct command of the Ukraine campaign with that of the main interlocutor with the United States on issues such as military “deconflict”.

The last time he spoke to the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, was in November, after a Ukrainian air defense missile landed in Poland.

It is not clear why the Russian Defense Ministry has made this move at this time. He said there was a “need to organize closer interaction between the branches and arms of the Armed Forces” and to improve the support and effectiveness of the “command and control of troop groups.”

New structure

Gerasimov will have three deputies: Surovikin, Army Commander Oleg Salyukov and Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Colonel General Aleksey Kim.

Surovikin was appointed commanding general of what Russia calls the “Special Military Operation” in October.
(Mikhail Metzel/Pool/Sputnik/Reuters)

The new structure means Gerasimov’s seniority will improve coordination in a campaign in which different branches of the military often seemed less than in sync.

Some analysts believe the move may also be an attempt by the ministry to exert tighter control over the campaign ahead of a critical few months when the rest of the reserve force mobilized in autumn 2022 will deploy after training.

The Ukrainian military has said it expects a new Russian offensive in early spring. The general military commander in Ukraine, General Valery Zaluzhny, told The Economist in December: “They [las fuerzas rusas] They are preparing 100%”.

A major Russian attack could happen “in February, at best in March and at worst at the end of January,” he said.

Rob Lee of King’s College London tweeted that Wednesday’s announcement “reaffirms the MoD’s position to oversee the war… this may also be partly a response to Wagner’s increasingly influential and public role in the war.” war”.

Wagner’s boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been both vocal and visible on the front lines, as his contract fighters have been prominent in the assault on Soledar in the eastern Donetsk region. He has repeatedly said that Wagner’s mercenary fighters are solely responsible for the advances in the Soledar area.

There has been a long history of tension between Prigozhin and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. But Prigozhin has praised General Surovikin for managing an orderly withdrawal of Russian forces in the southern Kherson region as his position became less and less tenable.

In November, Prigozhin said on his Telegram channel: “The generals have to win victory after victory every day. Who can Surovikin be compared to? Surovikin is honest and principled, the army trusts him.”

Some commentators wonder if the ministry is “rolling around” as criticism of its handling of the campaign persists. Wednesday’s announcement follows news that the man who lost his job as commander of the Central Military District in October, Colonel General Aleksandr Lapin, had been appointed Chief of the General Staff of the Ground Forces, according to the state news agency. TASS.

Both Prigozhin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov criticized Lapin. “It’s not just that Lapin is worthless. It is the fact that he is covered at the top by the leaders of the General Staff, ”Kadyrov wrote on his Telegram channel in October last year.

It is inconceivable that Gerasimov’s appointment would have occurred without President Vladimir Putin’s approval and, more likely, without his order. If Gerasimov turns the tide of the war, it will look like a brilliant move. If he fails, he will take the blame.

‘hanging by a thread’

A Russian military analyst who blogs under the pseudonym ‘Rybar’ and has more than a million Telegram followers, does not expect the reorganization to succeed, suggesting he expects “a miracle in month 11 of the special operation. ”

“The sum does not change by moving its parts,” Rybar wrote.

Dara Massicot, a senior researcher at the Rand Corporation, says the MoD is “demoting its most competent senior commander and replacing him with an incompetent one. This is a story that has it all: infighting, power struggles, jealousy.”

She says that while Surovikin made no strategic mistakes, Shoigu and Gerasimov are to blame for poor campaign planning. “They failed it. They signed a secret plan, multiple bad assumptions, they didn’t tell most of their troops. [Eso] caused heavy casualties and a partially broken force,” Massicot tweeted.

Galeotti says Gerasimov is “hanging by a thread”, tweeting: “I don’t think this is intended to create a pretext to fire him as the war is too important and Putin can fire whoever he wants. But he needs some kind of victory or his career will end in ignominy.”

Gerasimov, 67, was appointed by Putin in 2012. He gained recognition among Western analysts after a speech that was reported in Russia’s Military-Industrial Courier newspaper.

Gerasimov said that the use of propaganda and subversion meant that “a perfectly prosperous state can, in a matter of months and even days, transform into a scene of fierce armed conflict, become a victim of foreign intervention, and sink into a web of war.” chaos, humanitarian catastrophe and civil war”.

The arrival of Russia’s “little green men” in the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula in the spring of 2014 was seen as a successful example of this approach, sometimes referred to as “hybrid warfare”.

Galeotti says that “what Gerasimov was talking about was the use of subversion to prepare the battlefield before intervention, precisely the type of operations used in Ukraine. [en 2014]. Breaking the chain of command, provoking local insurrections, blocking communications – these are all classic moves that just started in Crimea.”

But now General Gerasimov has to lead a real war.

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