Putin’s appointing Gerasimov to command Russian troops in Ukraine may be another flop, ISW believes

12 January, 02:57 PM
Vladimir Putin and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Army Valery Gerasimov during the Russian command and staff exercises East-2022, September 6, 2022 (Photo:Пресслужба Кремля)

Vladimir Putin and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Army Valery Gerasimov during the Russian command and staff exercises East-2022, September 6, 2022 (Photo:Пресслужба Кремля)

The appointment of Valery Gerasimov as commander of Russian troops in Ukraine reflects Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's desire to resume major offensive operations in Ukraine in 2023, the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War wrote in its latest update on Jan. 11.

However, the move also demonstrates Putin’s lack of understanding of the real capabilities of the Russian army and is unlikely to help solve its problems, the ISW said.

Despite numerous statements by Russian sources, according to ISW, Russian troops have not yet fully captured Soledar, and even the possible capture of the town is unlikely to allow Russian troops to take Bakhmut.

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Analysts note that Russia's statements about the Russian offensive in Soledar provoked a discussion in the Russian pro-war community about the possibility of capturing Bakhmut, with some sources discussing the "implausible" development of events — the collapse of the Ukrainian front and the retreat of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to Slovyansk and Kramatorsk.

However, such discussions — about the allegedly inevitable capture of Bakhmut and the fall of the Ukrainian defensive lines — are "divorced from the current operational reality in the Bakhmut area, where Russian forces remain far from severing Ukrainian ground lines of communication needed to encircle Bakhmut," ISW experts said.

ISW believes that the appointment of the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Army Valery Gerasimov as commander of Russian troops in Ukraine is an attempt by the Kremlin to create conditions for both improving Russian command and control of troops and intensifying Russian operations in Ukraine.

The Institute’s analysts note that the official announcement of the appointment of Gerasimov and his deputies (Sergei Surovikin, Oleg Salyukov, Alexei Kim) comes in contrast to several previous covert changes in the structure of the Russian command.

Putin's decision to announce the changes publicly indicates that the Kremlin views Gerasimov's appointment as a major change — both in the actual conduct of the war and in the formal role of the Russian Defense Ministry, ISW writes.

Some other findings of the Institute on the appointment of Gerasimov as commander of Russian troops in Ukraine:

This move and the overall restructuring of the command are likely intended to demonstrate both internationally and within Russia Putin's willingness to wage a protracted war in Ukraine and the Kremlin's commitment to the traditional structures of the Russian Defense Ministry.

Putin's two main goals in the new appointments are an attempt to better manage Russia's operations for the decisive 2023 war, as well as a political desire to strengthen the Russian Defense Ministry amid growing challenges from a notional group of "siloviki," including Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner mercenary company.

Although Gerasimov's appointment may be explained by Russia's intention to resume offensive operations in 2023, Putin has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not understand the actual capabilities of the Russian Armed Forces. The ISW believes that the Russian dictator's calculation of the Russian army's ability to launch a successful major offensive this year is “probably wrong.”

However, if Gerasimov had approved (or at least not rejected) a catastrophic plan for a Russian invasion in Feb. 2022, he is unlikely to start resisting Putin now, analysts say.

Putin may also be aware of the threat of further Ukrainian counter-offensive operations in 2023 and expect that Gerasimov is able to strengthen Russian forces to withstand these likely attacks.

The formal "elevation" of Gerasimov and the Russian Defense Ministry over General Sergei Surovikin, a favorite of Prigozhin and the radical group of "siloviki," was also partly a political decision in the desire to restore the primacy of the Russian Defense Ministry in the internal Russian power struggle, ISW believes. Since the end of 2022, Prigozhin has been increasingly critical of the Russian Defense Ministry, relentlessly promoting the Wagner units at the expense of the MoD's reputation.

Now the Russian information space may be even more divided, analysts predict.

The inability of the Russian military-industrial complex to solve the problem of ammunition shortages will likely prevent Russia from sustaining offensive operations in eastern Ukraine in 2023.

ISW draws this conclusion from CNN reports with reference to representatives of the United States and Ukraine. On Jan. 10, it was reported that the daily intensity of Russian artillery fire decreased in some areas by 75%, which is a historical minimum since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. Sources told CNN that Russian forces may be rationing their artillery shells more strictly due to dwindling stockpiles or reconsidering their tactics.

Serhiy Cherevatyi, the spokesman for the Eastern Group of Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said that in the summer of 2022, Russian troops depleted their reserves of 122-mm and 152-mm artillery pieces and other resources, falsely believing that intensive artillery fire would lead to faster results.

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According to Cherevatyi, the Russian army is now forced to transfer additional shells from the rear of Russia and purchase extra ammunition from foreign countries to compensate for such shortages, which has led to a decrease in the rate of fire.

Russian sources also increasingly acknowledge that the lack of ammunition is seriously hampering the advance of Russian troops in Ukraine. One "military commander" said on federal TV that Russia's mobilization efforts are inadequate and that its results on the front line depend more on the economy and the military-industrial complex.

Earlier, ISW pointed out that the mobilization and other efforts of the Kremlin to build up the manpower of the army are unlikely to affect the course of the war unless Russia solves its fundamental problems with providing supplies to its military operations in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed that a renewed Russian offensive from Belarus remains unlikely. During a meeting on the security of Ukraine's northwestern borders on Jan. 11, Zelenskyy said that Ukraine does not see any significant changes in Belarus, "apart from strong statements," although Ukraine will prepare these sections of the border "for any situation."

In addition, on Jan. 11, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reiterated that it has not observed the formation of enemy assault groups in Belarus. ISW also continues to believe that a renewed invasion of northern Ukraine against Kyiv is unlikely.

Other conclusions of ISW analysts over the past day:

Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly issued secret and preemptive pardons to Russian convicts fighting with the Wagner Group in Ukraine, potentially further empowering Wagner to operate with impunity in the theater, and will also allow its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin to use the promise of pardons to stimulate recruitment, thereby supplying even more untrained and unprofessional personnel to the front as a depleting force that often commits atrocities.

Russian forces continued limited counterattacks near Svatove as Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations near Kreminna and struck rear areas in Luhansk Oblast.

Russian claims about Wagner Group and conventional Russian military formations’ operations in the Soledar area likely reflect competing claims over the responsibility for the most recent notable Russian tactical advances in Ukraine.

Russian forces conducted ground attacks across the Donetsk Oblast frontline.

Ukrainian officials reported that Russian forces are withdrawing key assets and restructuring logistics networks in southern Ukraine due to Ukrainian strikes.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced a plan to improve the Russian defense industrial base.

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