Russia demotes “General Armageddon” after failures on the battlefield

Russia has replaced Sergei Surovikin as head of its Ukraine campaign after just under three months after a series of setbacks on the battlefield and failure to turn the war in Moscow’s favour.

Surovikin, whose nickname includes “General Armageddon,” will be replaced by Russia’s senior military officer, Valery Gerasimov. Surovikin remains one of his deputies.

The reshuffle – the second since the full-scale invasion began in February – comes after the Russian army lost ground to a Ukrainian counter-offensive and sparked a domestic backlash over a deadly strike against newly mobilized conscripts at a barracks in eastern Ukraine on New Year’s Day.

When he was appointed to the top post in October, Surovikin, 56, was tasked with reversing Russia’s waning onslaught through escalation and brutal tactics he developed while leading the country’s forces in Syria.

But in those three months, Russia lost control of the southern city of Kherson, Ukraine’s only regional capital it could capture, and struggled to provide basic equipment, shelter and modern weaponry for the 300,000 men it drafted in September .

Combined with deadly military blunders – such as housing hundreds of conscripts in a single building in the town of Makiivka, which resulted in the deaths of dozens in a missile attack on Kyiv – territorial losses have drawn harsh reprimands from Russia’s pro-war right wing.

Surovikin also oversaw an intense campaign of strikes against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, regularly cutting off power in cities but not upsetting the balance of power on the front lines.

Gerasimov, Russia’s 67-year-old chief of staff and deputy defense minister, will lead the Joint Forces Group in the “special military operation” zone, as Moscow calls its invasion of Ukraine. who has entered her 11th month.

Oleg Salyukov, commander of the ground forces, and Alexei Kim, deputy chief of the general staff, were also appointed as Gerasimov’s deputies.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Gerasimov’s appointment was an “increase in the status of leadership” of the armed forces in Ukraine, a step “related to expanding the scope of tasks to be performed”.

These tasks included “the need to organize closer cooperation between branches and services of the armed forces” and an “increase in the quality of all types of care and the effectiveness of troop management”.

Since March, when Russia recorded its biggest gains, the territories captured and occupied by Moscow’s forces have more than halved after suffering significant casualties in Kharkiv in the northeast and Kherson in the south.

Russian pro-war advocates were skeptical that the reorganization would solve the problems the army was grappling with, including inflexible and hierarchical leadership, shortages of equipment and poor supplies.

“The sum does not change by changing the places of its parts: that is the only thing that can be said about Gerasimov’s appointment,” wrote Rybar, a pro-Kremlin military analysis channel with more than a million subscribers on Telegram, run by a former Employees of the press service of the Ministry of Defense.

The closest Russia has come to victory on the battlefield since July has been its latest push in the salt-mining town of Soledar, near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

But this battle has also exposed fault lines dividing Russia’s forces in Ukraine.

Evgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner private military company group, has publicly insisted that his men and not the regular armed forces fought in the region. Some of Prigozhin’s men recently shared videos criticizing Gerasimov and the General Staff for equipment shortages.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday its troops would also fight in Soledar: “Units of the Russian Airborne Forces have blocked Soledar from the north and south, assault battalions are fighting in the city, the air force is attacking the strongholds of Ukrainian troops. ”

A person close to Russia’s Defense Ministry said the move to appoint Gerasimov to lead Russia’s regular forces in Ukraine reflected organizational struggles at the heart of the war effort rather than a new direction.

“They just shuffle the deck because they’re stuck in a dead end and have no idea what to do,” the person said. “These guys are all old men heading for 70 and they don’t know how to fight a modern war.”

The person likened the recast to a classic Russian parable about a group of woodland creatures who form an inept instrumental quartet and seek advice from a nightingale, only to be told: “Order yourselves as you will; it won’t make any difference. You will never become a musician.”

But Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin analyst, said Surovikin will retain a crucial leadership role on the ground as Gerasimov will remain in an office position in Moscow.

However, by transferring control of the operation in Ukraine to the Army Chief of Staff, the Defense Ministry hoped to reduce bureaucratic delays, seen as a key disadvantage compared to Kiev’s more flexible structure.

“The Department of Defense hopes this will allow the Army to dramatically increase decision-making speed,” Markov wrote. The ministry could have been inspired by the Wagner group, he said.

“Therefore, the success of Wagner and Prigozhin forces the Russian army to fight differently and more modernly,” Markov wrote on social media.

https://www.ft.com/content/3fe90260-485c-433b-9a63-2660951d0bd2 Russia demotes “General Armageddon” after failures on the battlefield

Adam Bradshaw

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