Russian President Vladimir Putin has demoted the commander leading his forces in Ukraine after only three months on the job, replacing him with the country’s top general who is now expected to produce battlefield success where all others have failed.
On Wednesday, Russia’s defense ministry confirmed that Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff, has been appointed commander of the faltering invasion that Mr. Putin has characterized as a “special military operation.”
Gen. Gerasimov, who has come in for online criticism domestically for the Russian forces’ rocky performance so far in the fighting, replaces Gen. Sergei Surovikin, who has been demoted to be the commander of the aerospace forces operating in Ukraine.
Gen. Gerasimov will now lead a triumvirate of subordinate commanders in Ukraine. With Gen. Surovikin now in charge only of air operations, the ground forces will fall under the supervision of Gen. Oleg Salyukov and Gen. Alexei Kim, currently the deputy chief of Russia’s general staff.
The new appointments are in line with the broader scale of the mission in Ukraine and the need for closer coordination between all military branches to improve the quality of support for the troops, Russia’s defense ministry said on its Telegram social media page.
The announcement makes no mention of the failures that have dogged Russia’s military since the invasion began almost a year ago.
Gen. Surovikin had a reputation for brutality for bombing civilians while commanding Russia’s forces in Syria. He was put in charge of Russian operations in Ukraine in early October after an apparent truck bombing of a strategic bridge to the Crimean Peninsula.
“Some Western experts had hailed Surovikin as a highly-competent general for, among other things, managing the Russian withdrawal from the portion of Kherson on the right bank of the Dnipro River,” said Rajan Menon, strategy director at the Defense Priorities think tank. “But his removal suggests Putin may not share that assessment.”
Even Russia’s recent advances against the town of Soledar in Donetsk province are owed largely to the Wagner Group, a private army led by Putin confidant Yevgeny Prigozhin that relied heavily on prisoners drafted to serve in exchange for pardons.
“Prigozhin has been a harsh critic of Russia’s military leadership, and he has not been alone,” Mr. Menon said.