Putin has changed the leader in Ukraine: an admission of weakness and a promise of escalation?

PARIS: Military failure, new leader. On Wednesday, Moscow chose a chief of staff to lead operations in Ukraine, a sign of Russia’s impatience and dismay at a war it cannot win, experts say.

Terrible Sergei Surovikin, who was appointed at the end of October, did not last three months. He is second in line behind Valery Gerassimov, who has been at the top of the Russian military hierarchy for ten years.

Observers in Moscow, as in the West, on Thursday recalled President Vladimir Putin’s impatience in the face of Ukrainian resistance, the fragility of the Russian command in the grip of unfulfilled demands, and the promise of the next major offensive.


In Russia or elsewhere, it is extremely rare for a chief of staff to be appointed – Valery Gerassimov retains this function – for an operation. The one who coordinates, anticipates, and evaluates the global threat cannot be the one who gives orders.

“The last time this happened was in 1941 during the Nazi occupation,” recalls a Moscow analyst on condition of anonymity.

Guerasimov, number two behind the defense minister in the military hierarchy, carries the nuclear suitcase. “Will he take it with him to Ukraine”? he is joking. For him, this appointment “violates all existing rules” of the military command. A decision that revealed that “things didn’t go as planned.”

Because almost eleven months after the beginning of the invasion, Russia can only see its stagnation.

Heavy fighting is currently taking place in the cities of Bakhmout and Soledar (East). “It is not consistent to change the head of operations in the middle of a battle,” said Tatiana KastouĂ©va-Jean, a Russia researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).

“It unbalances the whole hierarchy from the top down. It can’t be a good signal.”

Oncoming Attack

Experts are united in seeing in this decision a sign of the acceleration of the Russian operation. There has been talk of an attack for months after the first attack in September, involving about 300,000 people, and the possibility of a new mobilization has not been ruled out.

Alexander Khramchikhin, an independent Russian military expert whose aim is to ensure effective control over the regions claimed by Russia (Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson), says, “It is clear that this personnel change indicates plans to expand the scale of the fighting.” and Zaporozhye).

Mark Galeotti, an employee of Britain’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank, said the decision “confirms that there will be serious attacks if necessary and Putin’s acknowledgment that poor coordination is a problem.”

Putin’s opacity

What could General Surovikin do in less than three months? What mistakes can be attributed to him? How to justify the waltz of the leaders of a structurally ineffective army? Experts point to the Kremlin strongman’s impatience and lack of transparency.

In the absence of recent military successes, Putin notes the worsening performance of his military, which “calls up the eternal Russian questions: + whose fault + and + what to do + “, Russian language expert Tatyana Stanova summarizes on Twitter. the elites.

However, Guerasimov’s candidacy does not answer this. “Everyone seems shocked: Prigogine’s men (Wagner, the head of the private paramilitary unit, editor’s note), military correspondents and the army. A large number of well-informed people do not understand the nature of this decision.”

Some evoke the option of sending an undeniably loyal man to Ukraine. But for Mark Galeotti, “if you continue to name-call, spin, grill, make unrealistic demands and arbitrarily lower your stars, that’s not going to build loyalty.”

Russian Suspicion

By changing military direction again, Putin will not assuage suspicions among the Moscow elite and part of Russian public opinion.

Alexander Khramchikhine, who says today that “discontent is growing as to why we did not win this war,” admits that there were “bad assessments at the beginning” of the conflict. The estimates were, in fact, confirmed by Guerassimov…

And many analysts see in this new face a sign of palace intrigues. Tatiana KastouĂ©va-Jean said: “The communication battle around Soledar shows that everyone, the army like Wagner, is trying to pull the plug and claim the credit.”

“This story has everything: internal struggles, power struggles, jealousy,” said Dara Massicot, an expert at the Rand Corporation in Washington.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *