Russian President Vladimir Putin in the latest reshuffle of Moscow’s military leadership, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu named Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov to command what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine on Wednesday.
Dubbed “General Armageddon” General Sergey Surovikin is a veteran commander , was effectively demoted as a result of the maneuver, making Gerasimov entirely responsible for the outcome of the conflict. Surovikin was demoted after just three months in the position, and together with two other generals, Oleg Salyukov and Alexey Kim, he now serves as Gerasimov’s deputy.
More than 10 months into a conflict that has seen tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides as well as Ukrainian citizens dead, it claimed the modifications are intended to boost the efficacy of military operations in Ukraine.
“The increase in the level of leadership of the special military operation is connected with the expansion in the scale of tasks … the need to organise closer contact between different branches of the armed forces, and improve the quality … and effectiveness of the management of Russian forces,” Moscow said in a statement.
The Russian army signaled a strategic shift by unleashing a wave of drone and missile attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure targets, causing blackouts and water outages in several cities.
Russian pro-war commentators were not impressed.
Surovikin, a veteran of Russian campaigns in Chechnya and Syria, was being made the fall guy for a series of recent Russian military debacles, including a Ukrainian attack on a Russian barracks in the town of Makiivka that killed at least 89 Russian soldiers, including conscripts, during the New Year period.
Many believe that Surovikin had been named Russia’s top battlefield commander in Ukraine only last October after a spite of Ukrainian offensives that turned the tide of the war and drew attention to poor training, equipment and morale among Russian forces.
This comes after another high-ranking general, Alexander Lapin, was promoted to head the land forces on Tuesday, as political expert Abbas Gallyamov noted on Telegram. “All this moving of the same individuals from one chair to another, at the height of military hostilities, may say whatever you like but not that ‘everything is going according to plan,” Gallyamov said.
Meanwhile, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group’s chairman and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, claimed that his forces had taken control of the entire Soledar after a bloody battle in which 500 soldiers were believed to have perished.
“I want to confirm the liberation and cleansing of the territory of Soledar,” “The whole city is littered with the corpses of Ukrainian soldiers,” boasted Prigozhin; however, the Ukrainian Government strongly refutes reports that the town has fallen and maintains that the battle is ongoing.
“The terrorist state and its propagandists are trying to pretend to have achieved some successes in Soledar,” said Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his nightly address on Wednesday, “but the fighting continues.” “We do everything, without stopping for a single day, to strengthen Ukrainian defenses. Our potential is growing,” he added.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the situation in Soledar.
The Way Forward
Dmitry Trenin, a political analyst based in Moscow, said the move was made to “streamline the chain of command in the Ukraine operation.”
“The appointment of Gerasimov means the importance of the operation has grown, and the scope of the operation may expand beyond what we see today.” “That is very significant,” Trenin told Al Jazeera.
The takeover of Soledar by pro-Russian forces would be a major step toward Moscow’s goal of annexing the industrial area of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas. The city would serve as a launching pad for an assault on the adjacent holdout city of Bakhmut, which has been resisting for months and is a major supply line centre in eastern Ukraine.