Riga Valeri Gerasimov has been the new supreme commander of the Russian troops in Ukraine since Wednesday. The 67-year-old chief of staff of the Russian armed forces was appointed by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, succeeding Air Force General Sergei Surovikin, who had only been in office since early October.
In 2015, President Vladimir Putin appointed Gerasimov Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces. He is considered one of the co-developers of the planning of the large-scale Russian attack on Ukraine. Gerasimov is therefore no stranger to the West either: Because of Russia’s actions against Ukraine since 2014, he has been on various sanctions lists for years, including that of the European Union.
His predecessor Surovikin, who has only been in office since October, will in future act as one of Gerasimov’s three deputies. Observers classify this as a downgrade. The Ministry of Defense in Moscow, on the other hand, explained that the step was a reaction to an expansion of the scope of the so-called “special operation”, as the war in Russia is officially called. In addition, the ministry referred to the “need to organize closer interaction between the troops”.
Surovikin, nicknamed “General Armageddon” in the Russian media because of his unscrupulous actions against civilian targets, had ordered the bombing of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Since then, millions of people in the country have been affected by power outages. He had also ordered the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kherson in November, which was a military setback for Moscow.
Top jobs of the day
Find the best jobs now and
be notified by email.
Gerasimov is now the fourth commander and also the longest-serving commander-in-chief since the beginning of the war of aggression against Ukraine, which the Russian military began on February 24, 2022.
Russian military in distress
For many experts, the rapid replacement of his predecessor illustrates the hopes that the Kremlin has in Gerasimov. Originally, the Kremlin had expected to win the war against Ukraine in a few weeks. The decision in favor of Gerasimov is seen as an attempt by Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin to strengthen the reputation of the country’s military leadership, which has recently come under criticism for numerous defeats in the war.
>> Read here: Battle of Soledar – Will Russia Repeat Summer’s Mistake?
At the same time, the decision could represent a kind of degradation or at least a burden for Gerasimov himself, writes the British Historian and Russia analyst Mark Galeotti on Twitter. The chief of staff is now personally responsible for the entire operation – and thus also for Putin’s unrealistic expectations, according to Galeotti.
Almost eleven months after the start of the attack, there is much to suggest that the Kremlin chief is dissatisfied after the many setbacks by the Russian army and that he would have expected more rapid success recently.
Instead, the Ukrainian counter-offensive has been causing difficulties for the Russian army in many places for months. Russian forces are currently engaged in intense fighting for the city of Soledar in eastern Ukraine. Wagner Group mercenaries reported taking the city, but Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Russian forces had suffered “colossal losses” attempting to capture the city.
The relative successes of the Wagner Group and Chechen-led troops had repeatedly prompted Russian military bloggers and observers to criticize Chief of Staff Gerasimov for the general state of the army.
For a long time there has been criticism within Russia of the actions of the Russian army, which many pro-Russian war supporters also believe is not being managed effectively enough. In addition, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov repeatedly questioned the abilities of the military leadership. Both provide Russia with troops to fight in Ukraine.
According to Evgeny Buzhinsky, a retired Russian general and Moscow-based defense analyst, Gerasimov’s new role is also a warning to the Chechen leader and the Wagner boss to respect their position in the hierarchy. “Kadyrov and Prigozhin are respected people, they contribute a lot, but they shouldn’t decide the course of this operation,” Buzhinsky told Bloomberg. The appointment of Gerasimov could also be seen as a sign to Prigozhin and Kadyrov.
Foreign policy expert Dmitri Trenin sees the personnel decision as reason to believe that Russia could intensify the war against Ukraine. “The scope of the operation could go beyond what we see today,” the former director of the Russian think tank Carnegie Moscow Centers told Al Jazeera TV. “The escalation of the war continues”.
Gerassimov, who is said to be taciturn, comes from Kazan, a city of over a million inhabitants, about 700 kilometers east of Moscow. He rarely appears in public.
More: Fighting for eastern Ukrainian cities is coming to a head