“Frequent changes in Russian military command are not a sign that operations are going well”


On January 11, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced the reorganization of the army by appointing the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Army, General Valery Gerasimov, as the commander of the joint group of troops stationed in Ukraine. Guerasimov, who is close to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Choigu, replaced Sergei Surovik, who was appointed to the post just three months ago. Julien Theron interview with Isabelle Mandraud, political scientist, professor of conflict and international security at Sciences Po Paris and co-author of the book Putin, a strategy of disorder until war.

RFI: What does Guerasimov’s appointment as head of military operations in Ukraine mean?

Julien Theron: That’s still a lot of rebuilding! A year later, General Alexander Dvornikov was appointed, and then General Sergey Surovikin and now there is General Valery Gerasimov. And so the first thing that stands out is that it looks a bit like a hobby… Because if you change the commander too often, then the operations are not going well! Second, General Gerasimov does not intend to fundamentally change the course of operations, and this is for the quite simple reason that he is in the same tactical, operational and strategic formations as his predecessors.

In reality, if we look at the road map given by the Kremlin, we will see that, above all, better coordination of operations is required. It is clear that there is coordination of armored forces, infantry, but above all air forces, which are not used to the extent necessary due to the excellent defense of Ukrainian airspace. But there is potential coordination with other actors, I’m thinking of the overtly militarized Wagner group… even with Belarusian forces that could potentially come into conflict.

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What do we know about Valery Gerasimov?

Valery Guerassimov comes from an extremely classical training in the Red Army. He gradually rose through the ranks, and there are not many surprising things about his military career. On the other hand, he is famous for embodying the post-2008 reform of the Russian armed forces. And above all, because he was considered to have left a kind of doctrine called the “Kerasimov doctrine”. In fact, this is not a doctrine at all, but an article published in a Russian military magazine in 2014, which says that we should do this. consider the conditions of war “.

Could this be one of the reasons for his appointment? Not at all, because he was already chief of staff, so operations were still under his control. Also, the innovative elements he included in these ideas are actually non-military elements: disinformation, political control, social control, etc. So in strict military terms, in traditional terms, it’s not really going to be a game changer. .

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Do you think this restructuring is the Kremlin’s response to the difficulties it is facing on various fronts in Ukraine?

Yes, and it is interesting because it is a political decision imposed on the military. It also means that this political behavior changes frequently, and the military itself has difficulty adapting. I thought that Valery Gerasimov’s predecessor, General Surovik, managed to make a very important gesture to the Kremlin, which was to withdraw from Kherson last November. Will stay Kherson it was a very political decision and made no sense from a military point of view, as Russian forces were heavily exposed to it. It was more important from a military point of view to take refuge on the other side of the river in order to improve the defense there. It was General Surovikin who forced this to the Kremlin. But we see that it was not enough: the Kremlin believes that the efforts are not enough and that there should be political rather than military victories.

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