with Soledar and Guerassimov, Russia ready to change approach?

WAR IN UKRAINE – If the holiday season is marked – at least on paper – by a truce in the conflict in Ukraine, the first days of 2023 are somewhat under a sign of change. Changes made primarily by Moscow and echoing a certain impatience on the part of the Kremlin, as we explained in our video at the top of the article.

Among Vladimir Putin’s recent actions: change the man who led the invasion of Ukraine. The Russian president thus demoted Sergei Surovikin, who served for 3 months, to second place, replacing him with Valéri Guerassimov. The latter, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces for 10 years, now holds the reins of “special operations”.

However, in Russia or elsewhere, it is rare to appoint a Chief of Staff in charge of an operation. In general, those who coordinate, anticipate, assess global threats, cannot be commandos in the field. “The last time it happened was in 1941 during the Nazi invasion”, a Moscow analyst told AFP on condition of anonymity. For him, Valéri Guerassimov’s appointment was telling “Things didn’t go according to plan”.

More violent fights

In fact, after nearly a year, the invasion of Russia had stalled. What causes frustration and therefore violence? In Soledar, on the outskirts of Bakhmout, particularly heavy fighting has been going on for several days.

“This is a difficult phase of the war, but we will win it (…) Our fighters are bravely trying to defend our defenses”said Undersecretary of Defense Ganna Maliar this week, referring to Russia’s adversary who turns into a steamroller and who “ put all his strength into battle “.

For military analyst Anatoly Khramchikhine, the conquest of Soledar, a small pre-war town of about 10,000 inhabitants, now completely destroyed, would allow Moscow, despite heavy losses, to finally swing a military victory, after a series of humiliating setbacks. Stop losing a lot.

From the Russian point of view, Soledar is also an ideal target to cut off supplies to the Ukrainian lines defending Bakhmout.

Extended attack?

Victory at all costs, new team in key position… For observers, all these elements are signs that point to the possibility that Moscow will intensify its operations.

A new type of offensive in Ukraine has been mentioned for several months and the hypothesis of a new mobilization is not excluded, after the first wave in September of about 300,000 people. For Mark Galeotti, of the British think-tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), this decision was a no-brainer “confirm, if needed, that a serious attack is coming”.

Did Volodymyr Zelensky fear the worst? In any case is it in this context that Ukraine is repeating its call to its Western partners to provide heavy weapons and long-range missiles, ahead of a new meeting scheduled in Germany on January 20?

The Western Chancellors, for their part, have been slow to respond well to Kyiv’s pleas in this regard and Paris, London, Berlin and Washington have only promised tanks and other lightly armored vehicles at this stage.

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