War in Ukraine. Who is the “unsinkable” General Guerassimov, the new commander of the Russian troops?

Russian army heavyweight to lead operations in Ukraine: President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday appointed General Valéri Guerassimov, Chief of the Defense Staff, commander of his offensive in Ukraine.

He replaced Sergueï Sourovikine, who would lead operations for nearly three months. The latter was demoted to the rank of Guerassimov’s assistant, along with Oleg Salioukov and Alexei Kim.

The Russians are currently leading a particularly hard offensive in the Soledar area, a city of 12,000 inhabitants with many salt mines, and in Bakhmout, a little further south. Two regions in Donbass, in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow justified Gerasimov’s appointment with an “raised command level”, due to “the enlargement of the scope of the missions to be completed, the need for closer interaction between components of the armed forces”.

“Military to the hairline”

In the Russian military hierarchy, Valery Gerasimov, 67, is number 3 – after Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and President and Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Putin.

Born in 1955 in Kazan in what is now Tatarstan, Guerassimov has distinguished himself in all the conflicts involving Russia over the decades.

From a simple infantryman to military heights, he rose to prominence during the second Chechen war, with a reputation as a tough but fair man.

Valeri Gerasimov was one of the commanders of the North Caucasus army during the conflict between Moscow and Grozny from 1999 to 2009. Even the minuscule Putinophile Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaïa has recognized in him “a man who knows how to keep his honor as an officer”. Reason: he had arrested and condemned a Russian colonel, Yuri Boudanov, who was accused of brutalizing and killing a young Chechen during the conflict. The episode was heavily mediated by the Kremlin, which faced international criticism for the conflict.

He later became Chief of Staff of the Far Eastern Military District, and worked his way up the ranks until he was appointed Commander of the Central Military District in 2012. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu described him as “military to the hairline.

The myth of the “Guerasimov Doctrine”

He is sometimes shown as the origin of the logic of hybrid warfare christened the “Guerasimov doctrine”. Namely, the technique of warfare that Moscow has claimed since 2014, which consists of preparing the population for conflict by relying on computer, diplomatic, economic, cultural and psychological – before the military. In practice, there are frequent cyber-attacks, “soft-power”, and a lot of propaganda.

Valéri Guerassimov is indeed featured as the author of a 2013 article that supposedly theorizes this doctrine. But the idea that he was behind it, that he was presenting the way Russia would intervene in Ukraine specifically, in Crimea since 2014, was upended by researchers:

In fact, the text, which is a summary of Guerasimov’s speech, describes Russia’s perception of the war waged by Western countries for ten years.

Emmanuel Dreyfus, Russia specialist researcher at IRSEM

The general was actually talking about how, according to Moscow, the West had been “setting the groundwork” before the start of the Arab Spring in the early 2010s.

Remote action, without contact with the enemy, became the main means of achieving combat objectives

Valeri Guerassimov, denounced Western interference during the Arab revolutions

As Vladimir Putin has maintained since, he also denounces techniques – the West, he says – aimed at destabilizing Russia.

Presents Guerassimov as a fine strategist, despite repeated denials of the concept’s true “creator” Mark Galeotti, British specialist in Russian military matters, convince and frighten as far as Washington – and participate precisely in the form of “hybrid war”. “Though he probably didn’t even write the damn speech himself,” concludes Galeotti.

Targeted by attacks in Ukraine in April

After Grozny, Guerassimov led the operation in Syria in 2015. And it was he who was asked by Vladimir Putin to order the strike on Ukraine on February 24. Before stashing it… in the cupboard, preferring other leaders, including the evil “Syrian butcher” Alexander Dvornikov, to lead the attack.

At the end of April, the quiet, cold, harsh but determined Guerassimov went to Ukraine with other senior officers. He was the victim of an attack that killed dozens of Russian soldiers, including generals. Injured or not? The rumors dragged on for days, with no reliable information that would allow, even today, to tell.

Several specialists later saw him replace Dvornikov at the front. Now it was over: he had to replace Sourovikine, who had become his assistant, after the many disappointments he had suffered.

For how long? Nicknamed ” General Armageddon », Surovikin served on the day of the Crimean bridge explosion. He had to rectify the situation after weeks of failure by the Russian troops who had been battered since the summer. If he manages to stabilize the situation, Moscow attributes this to a major Russian withdrawal from Kherson in November, as well as the deaths of 89 Russian soldiers at Makiivka on New Year’s Eve, and he will also fail to mobilize 300,000 reserves.

“The Unsinkable”

Bowing to the same agenda, the “unsinkable” Guerassimov – one of his nicknames – had to be reassuring: Putin repeated just before Christmas his desire to “end the conflict quickly”.

The profits from Russia’s bloody attack on Bakhmout could thus go to Guerasimov if successful, estimates the Telegram channel Rybar, which with its millions of subscribers is one of the main sources of support for the Kremlin.

“Time will tell” if the “unsinkable” General Valéri Guerassimov will finally find himself in the “lightning rod” position and will in turn be dismissed in the event of another setback, Rybar added.

Until then, the number of options has been reduced in favor of the Kremlin, which this time sent number 3 to the front, after Defense Ministers Sergei Shoigu and Vladimir Putin.

In Moscow, there is a saying: “Sergei Shoigu [ministre de la Défense] will remain in office as long as Valéri Guerasimov remains Chief of Staff. And vice versa. »

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