Putin appoints new commander in chief for Ukraine war

Moscow, Jan 12 (EFE).- The naming of a new commander in chief of Russia’s troops in Ukraine just when the Kremlin appears poised to achieve its first victory in the Donbas region since last July opens a new phase in Moscow’s military campaign in the neighboring country.

The new commander is Valery Gerasimov, the general who since 2012 has headed the general staff of Moscow’s armed forces and who has been heavily criticized in Russia precisely for failing to make progress on the battlefield in the first few months of the war, which the Kremlin launched on Feb. 24, 2022.

Gerasimov takes over the Ukraine campaign after the commander appointed three months ago – Gen. Sergei Surovikin, who had gained a reputation as an extremely “brutal” commander after destroying massive amounts of infrastructure, including hospitals and schools, in Syria – was sacked after failing to make progress against Ukrainian forces.

The Kremlin said on Thursday that Gerasimov’s appointment comes with the “expansion of the scale of the tasks being fulfilled … and the need to organize closer interaction between branches of the military and to increase the quality of supplies and the efficiency of directing groups of forces.”

Moscow also said that the objectives of the Ukrainian “special operation” remain unchanged.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said that Russia’s aims in prosecuting its war against Ukraine remain to “demilitarize” and “denazify” the neighboring country, adding that the Russian army has “much work ahead.”

In addition, alluding to the four eastern and southeastern Ukrainian regions annexed by Russia – Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – Peskov said that all citizens of what Moscow considers to be the Russian Federation “must be liberated.”

Gerasimov, who has only rarely appeared in public during the war, thus once again becomes the person mainly responsible for the success of the campaign.

According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), the restructuring of the Russian army seeks to reemphasize for the international community that the Kremlin is ready to pursue a lengthy war in Ukraine.

Other analysts say that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not want to go into his country’s 2024 presidential election, when he presumably will be running for reelection, without having achieved some sort of victory in Ukraine.

Surovikin, meanwhile, has not been fired, but rather has been relegated to the post of assistant commander of Russia’s military forces in Ukraine.

During the past three months, the strategy pursued by the so-called “General Armageddon” focused on bombarding Ukraine’s main civilian infrastructure in reprisal for Kyiv’s attack on the bridge linking the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

However, the ongoing massive bombardment with artillery, drones and missiles has been accompanied by Ukrainian battlefield advances and Russia’s humiliating withdrawal from the northern third of the Kherson region, including the regional capital.

The ISW predicts that Gerasimov’s arrival will lead to a resumption of large-scale offensive operations in Ukraine, although it said that Putin has already overestimated the capabilities of Russia’s armed forces on numerous occasions.

One of the pressing problems facing Russia is the inability of its military industry to solve the chronic scarcity of ammunition. In fact, Ukrainian forces have reported that in January Russian artillery fire had slacked off by up to 75 percent in some zones.

To that must be added the recent promises by the US, Poland, Lithuania, Germany, France and the United Kingdom to provide Kyiv with armored vehicles and tanks.

The decision to replace Surovikin coincides with the battle of Soledar, where assault units of the Wagner military company have been trying to take that Ukrainian bastion in the Donetsk region.

Specifically, Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was the main backer of the general and, along with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadirov, one of the figures most critical of the general staff.

Prigozhin for weeks has been touting the “heroic” advances of Wagner troops, who include thousands of former prison inmates pardoned by Putin, according to human rights defenders, although other sources say that they are working as Russian air transport personnel and with pro-Russian militias in the occupied areas of Ukraine.

Experts feel that Gerasimov’s appointment is aimed as strengthening the Defense Ministry against the challenge represented by Prigozhin, Kadurov and Igor Girkin, the official who led the pro-Russian uprising in the Donbas in 2014, and the military bloggers, the main enemies of the Russian generals.

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