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Putin, Shoigu and Gerasimov; a triumvirate of incompetents

Image credits: Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, escorted by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, and General Staff Valery Gerasimov walk after attending an extended meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry Board at the National Defense Control Center in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021. Picture courtesy of Mikhail Metzel,

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Moscow continues implementing its “the more things change, the more they stay the same” strategy in Ukraine. At the same time, pro-Kremlin accounts on various social networks spread the notion that potential Russian tactical victories in the Eastern European country would change the war’s course.  

By Nikola Mikovic
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the so-called special military operation in Ukraine, several Russian generals have been fired after failing to achieve the Kremlin’s unrealistic goals. But the men in charge of the Russian army – Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov – seem irreplaceable.

Moreover, on January 11, Sergey Surovikin, nicknamed "General Armageddon", was dismissed from the position of commander of the Russian Armed Forces in the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. He was replaced by Gerasimov – a man often criticised by various Russian structures for poor planning of the war.

But for Putin, everything in Ukraine is going “according to plan”, which suggests that, from his perspective, Gerasimov is doing a good job. Almost a year after Russia launched the full-scale invasion of the Eastern European country, the Kremlin has not achieved any military and political goals in Ukraine. To win the war, or at least improve the Russian military performance on the ground, Putin would have to fire Gerasimov and himself.

Valery Gerasimov does not seem capable of changing the course of the war. A somewhat oval and broader face with a massive chin and a little nose characterises low-intelligence prediction. General Gerasimov's face is the best illustration of this perception. Such an appearance makes him the perfect candidate for the head of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine. Putin needs henchmen rather than highly skilled commanders.

Surovikin’s primary task was to make a “difficult decision” and leave the strategically important city of Kherson – from Russia’s perspective, part of the Russian Federation. Over the past three months, he has conducted dozens of attacks on Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure, but the results were modest.

It is possible that Surovikin did not get political permission from the Kremlin to eradicate the Ukrainian energy facilities, so he was ordered to conduct limited missile strikes aiming at forcing Kyiv to negotiate with Moscow.

Gerasimov is expected to continue implementing the same policy. However, in the foreseeable future, he can launch another military offensive in the north of Ukraine from Belarus or somewhere in the southeast of the war-torn country.

That, however, does not necessarily mean that the Russian forces will make huge gains on the ground. If they continue using their suicidal frontal assault military tactics, they may seize some villages and towns but will undoubtedly suffer heavy losses.

The Russians continue wasting an enormous amount of combat potential trying to capture Bakhmut in the Donbas, although the town does not have strategic importance. Reports suggest that the Russian military group Wagner has seized the town of Soledar, which could be interpreted as the first Russian tactical victory after the battle for Severodonetsk that took place in May and June.

After that, the Kremlin withdrew Russian forces from the Kharkiv region in Eastern Ukraine and Kherson in the south. Previously, in the early days of the war, Under Shoygu and Gerasimov’s command, a large percentage of the Russian Ground Forces and Airborne forces were destroyed. Thus, the Kremlin continues changing actors but keeps implanting the same suicidal military and political strategy in Ukraine.

Even if the Russian forces eventually successfully seized Bakhmut, Moscow would still not achieve its political goals in the former Soviet republic. The Ukrainian army will move to Slovyansk and Kramatorsk’s heavily fortified line of defence and wait for the right moment to launch a counteroffensive in the country's south.

Russia could reinvade Ukraine from Belarusian territory, aiming to force Kyiv to redeploy its troops from the Donbas to the north. If successful, the Kremlin could then try to pressure the Ukrainian leadership to negotiate and implicitly recognise a new reality in which the Donbas and parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions are de facto parts of Russia.

But given that incompetent figures like Shoigu and Gerasimov run the Russian military, such a plan is unlikely to work. As a result, Russia will suffer more defeats in Ukraine, and Putin could be pressured to fire his closest allies. At the same time, the Russian public will eventually start demanding Putin’s resignation. After all, the fish stinks from the head.

Nikola Mikovic

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