The appointment of a new general to maneuver in Ukraine marked a major Russian offensive

Russian operations in Ukraine have a new commander-in-chief, General Gerasimov. He is a “heavyweight” and a veteran of the Russian military apparatus: a 67-year-old army general, since 2012 he has served as First Deputy Minister of Defense and Chief of the Armed Forces ( CEMA) and, in this dual capacity , member of the National Defense Council.

The West knows him because he is (wrongly) considered the father of the “doctrine” that bears his name as the theory of hybrid warfare. He notably appears on the list of individual sanctions adopted by the EU in 2014 and then in 2022 for his contributions to actions against Ukraine.

What is the significance of this new designation, not only to the war itself but to Russia’s strategic posture?

Technical appointments, political moves or strategic inflections?

Valéri Guerassimov, who is retaining his post as CEMA, replaces General Surovikin, who was appointed to this post on October 8, as commander of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine. However, the latter was not dismissed: he was simply demoted to the functions of Guerassimov’s assistant.

This change raises many questions because of its tempo, Russia’s new “warlord” status, and strategic agreements. Is this a technical appointment of a specialist in military operations or a strong political gesture aimed at international opinion? Is it only the sanctions against General Surovikin after the defeat at Kherson and the death of tens (if not hundreds) of Russian soldiers at Makiivka in 1uh January?

More generally, should we anticipate a shift in Russia’s strategic posture? Is the waltz of the commanders in chief over and is this designation getting louder?

A military “heavyweight”… and political

Gerasimov followed the typical path of professional military personnel of the generation born in the 1950s: entering a career at the top of the Soviet Union in the 1970s, they rose to the rank of senior officer after the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. Guerassimov, like his older brother, was three years Vladimir Poutine. , thus knowing the drunkenness of military hegemony and the bitterness of his country’s strategic fall.

A tanker by training, he was highly sensitive to the territorial dimensions of the Russian campaign in Ukraine: on a technical level, his appointment had to enable him to respond to the difficulties faced by the Russian armored divisions. Spearheading the 2022 winter and spring offensive, Russian tank units have suffered many setbacks, both in terms of equipment and tactics. His (even long) competence in this regard undoubtedly marked a change in the use of armored vehicles in Ukraine – and therefore a new territorial advance.

Above all, Gerasimov was an experienced officer who was well acquainted with the functions of the army at the tactical, operational (at the operational level) and strategic levels. His main tactical experience came from the second Chechen war (1999-2000), a campaign that was inflexible and extremely lethal.

He is a veteran of operational command, apparatchik staff and familiar with political decision-making circles.

Later, as CEMA he oversaw the preparation, deployment and execution of the Russian campaign in Syria beginning in the summer of 2015. In short, unlike General Surovikin, he boasts a very broad spectrum of military experience, from the field to political circles, from conflicts on national soil to operations far abroad. Combined with his longevity as a CEMA and the confidence shown from Putin, this career has brought him prestige in the army that is unparalleled, even for the Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu. .

Hence, a veteran of the operational command, a staff officer and familiar with the political decision-making circles now in charge of the war in Ukraine. This decision seems to confirm that a new large-scale Russian offensive is planned for the next few weeks.

A new leader for a new offensive?

The new commander-in-chief of operations must strengthen joint coordination, which has traditionally been weak in Russia. For many observers, poor cooperation between the artillery, infantry and air dimensions is the main explanation for the setbacks suffered since August 2022, first and foremost Ukraine’s recapture of Kherson in October.

Furthermore, Gerasimov was well aware of the importance of the continuum between military and civilian means in conflict. In a speech delivered in 2013 about the Arab revolutions, he emphasized the use of media, cultural, financial and social means to prepare for military operations. This led to the discovery of the “hybrid warfare” doctrine to him.

His appointment can therefore not only respond to deficiencies in coordination between armies on the ground, but also prepare for a multidimensional attack in 2023, for example in cyberspace, in the regional political scene or even in related territorial theaters such as the South Caucasus, Black. Sea or Moldova.

The national military prestige linked to its status as a “hero of the Russian Federation” should also allow, in the minds of Russian leaders, to take back the ongoing mobilization of reserve forces. “Makiivka disaster” at 1uh January 2023 has shown a certain organizational amateurism and a certain disciplinary weakness of the officers overseeing the new mobilization. CEMA’s arrival as chief of operations should consolidate the chain of command within military institutions to improve internal discipline and, perhaps, expand mobilization, even if it is still too early to determine whether this appointment prepares general mobilization.

In short, at the military level, this designation provides a strong indication of the nature and pace of the new offensive to come. It will employ all components of the Russian armed forces (ground, air, sea, cyber, special forces, Wagner Group auxiliaries) and will probably be extended to the region as a whole: Russia, under Guerassimov, will surely show itself to be more active at Sea Black and from the allied territory of Belarus.

At the military level, Russia’s operations in Ukraine are no longer “special” in the sense that it does not use an expeditionary force that is responsible for quickly taking control of a country that is considered weak. Being strategic in the sense of being planned in a multidimensional and long term sense.

Zhukov’s syndrome or Lebed’s curse?

What are the benefits and risks of this appointment for the political leadership and, in particular, for Vladimir Putin?

The frequently changing military command was an admission of failure. Likewise, the appointment of a CEMA commander for an operation underscores that the pool of military leaders is limited and that the political level removes its own “fuse”. General Surovikin’s demotion confirmed Russia’s decline by the fall. And by confusing the strategic level (CEMA) with the operational level (head of military operations), the political level is revealed. In the event of an apparent failure, a media scapegoat will be appointed: CEMA. But his closeness to the Minister of Defense and the President of the Federation meant his failure too, more directly than under Surovikin, the failure of the country’s leaders.

Guerassimov’s nomination exposed him like never before. His authority would crumble in the event of a military reversal. But if it succeeded, he would also be in danger.

Finally, on a strictly political level, this appointment underscores the competition between ruling circles for the support of the Russian president.

The war in Ukraine and its (small) results for Russia have sharpened internal rivalries. The question about Vladimir Putin’s dolphin lies in a new, tougher but more revealing term. The public communications of the Wagner Group and its leader, Evgueni Prigojine, show a desire to promote the man who has long been nicknamed “Putin’s cook” because he started by creating fast food chains. Moreover, at the end of December he did not hesitate to attack Guerassimov hard, judging him to be responsible for the poor supply of troops.

Similarly, former Prime Minister and President Dmitri Medvedev has been trying for several months to rally a nationalist streak against him by reproducing provocative xenophobic remarks. There are still other players, more surreptitiously, trying to exploit the evolution of the conflict to win over Putin.

As for Guerassimov himself, his nomination made him like never before. Of course, his authority would crumble in the event of a military reversal. But if it succeeds, CEMA will also be in jeopardy. If he tries to acquire a political dimension, he may fall victim to the “Lebed curse”. We recall that General Alexandre Lebed had tried to exploit the military prestige he had earned in Afghanistan (during Soviet times) and in Moldova (after independence) for a career in politics. He disappeared in a helicopter crash, the cause of which is controversial.

Likewise, with this appointment, President Putin could be faced with the “Zhukov syndrome”. Marshal Joukov established himself, in 1944 and 1945, as one of the greatest military victors of the Second World War. Stalin first used Zhukov’s prestige to make people forget the 1941 Soviet collapse against the German army. But he then did everything to sideline this wildly popular marshal before starting a new purge in the army.

In short, the appointment of General Guerassimov heralds not only a new, tougher and more sustained offensive at the military level, but also a new strategic posture on a regional scale… and, perhaps, a new political situation in Moscow.

Thanks to Laurent Célérier and Florent Parmentier for their contributions to this article.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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