(Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin’s defense minister has appointed Russia’s top general, 67-year-old Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, to lead its war in Ukraine, the most dramatic in a series of high-level leadership changes since the invasion of Russia in February. .
Many nationalist war bloggers with Kremlin license to criticize the war’s conduct have blamed Gerasimov for the fact that the great power’s army — supposedly expensively modernized and re-equipped in the past 15 years — has measurably failed to bring it into submission. Much smaller neighbor.
Critics in Ukraine, the West, and even within Russia describe Russia’s armed forces as naive, poorly prepared and equipped, slow to respond, and fragmented by disparate and often distant command structures.
After the failure of an unplanned mobilization campaign to turn the tide in Russia’s favor, rumors circulated for months that Gerasimov, largely invisible to the public, would be sidelined.
Both Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group militia, and Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the southern Russian republic of Chechnya, direct veiled criticisms of Gerasimov while clearly claiming battlefield successes for their own, supposedly superior, semi-independent forces.
Defense Department supporters say Russia often underperforms at the start of wars, and that many of the problems that have come to light in supply, technology and leadership over the past 10 months have been or are being worked out.
What does that mean for the battlefield?
The Defense Department said the seniority of the commander in charge of the “special military operation” reflects its breadth and the need to improve organization and leadership.
Gerasimov’s deputies will be General of the Army Sergei Surovikin, the former theater commander, who was appointed three months ago and nicknamed “General Armageddon”. Army General Oleg Salyukov; and Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Colonel Alexei Kim.
Igor Korotchenko, a hardline military expert who gets a lot of space on state television, said Putin’s decision stemmed from Ukraine’s receipt of heavy long-range weapons from the West and the prospect that it would soon receive Western armored fighting vehicles and possibly battle tanks.
He said that Gerasimov’s arrival increased the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine:
“The appointment of Gerasimov means that all means of destruction in the arsenals of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation can be used – without exception.”
Shoigu on Tuesday pledged to build a deeper arsenal of weapons, boost aviation technology to better evade air defenses and improve production of drones.
What about politics?
By putting Gerasimov in direct command, Putin could signal to the West about his determination to win the war, bolster the army’s standing relative to Prigozhin and Kadyrov’s militias, and not least, make his top general more accountable for day-to-day invasion behavior.
“Now the General Staff is directly and uncompromisingly responsible for absolutely everything,” said Semyon Pegov, a Russian military blogger who goes by the name Wargonzo.
“General Armageddon is still at the center of the decision-making process, but in a much less vulnerable position.”
Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the analysis firm R.Politik, wasn’t convinced the change would make much of a difference.
“Gerasimov took command of the military operation due to serious setbacks for Surovikin,” it said.
“Putin is looking for effective tactics against the backdrop of a ‘creeping’ defeat”.
“He tries to adjust the pieces, thus giving chances to those he finds convincing. Today, Gerasimov turns out to be convincing. Tomorrow he could be anyone else.”
Who is Gerasimov?
Putin appointed Gerasimov chief of the general staff and deputy defense minister on 9 November 2012, three days after Putin’s ally Sergei Shoigu was appointed defense minister.
Every man carrying one of three nuclear briefcases could order a Russian nuclear strike.
Gerasimov played key roles in Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and in the game-changing Russian military support for President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war.
The US State Department slapped sanctions on him the day after the invasion of Ukraine, saying he was one of three senior Russians besides Putin who were directly responsible for the war.
However, Gerasimov occasionally speaks with General Mark Milley, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Gerasimov was born on September 8, 1955 in Kazan and rose through the ranks of the Russian Tank Forces, graduating in 1997 from the Military Academy of the General Staff.
(Reporting by Jay Faulconbridge). Editing by Kevin Levy
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