Russian President Vladimir Putin is showing signs that he is aware his military is “falling short” in its war against Ukraine, according to the latest British intelligence update.
In its intelligence briefing posted to Twitter on Wednesday, the U.K. Ministry of Defence pointed to reports of Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov being promoted to head of the Russian military as “a significant development in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approach to managing the war.”
Reuters reported earlier in the day that Gerasimov was appointed to the new position by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, overtaking the role from Sergey Surovikin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov attend an expanded meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry Board at the National Defense Control Centre in Moscow, on December 21, 2022. The U.K. Ministry of Defence reported Wednesday that Gerasimov’s recent shift to head of Russia’s military is a sign Putin is aware of his military’s failures in it war with Ukraine.
Mikhail Kireyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images
“The deployment of the [Chief of the General Staff] as theatre commander is an indicator of the increasing seriousness of the situation Russia is facing, and a clear acknowledgement that the campaign is falling short of Russia’s strategic goals,” the British ministry said in its report.
Gerasimov’s promotion comes after a series of setbacks in Russia’s war in Ukraine, where the Kremlin’s army has reportedly lost over 110,000 soldiers since it invaded its neighbor in February. Surovikin had served as head of Putin’s military since October, and will stay on as deputy to Gerasimov, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry.
Despite the list of failures from Russian troops under Surovikin’s lead, however, the official was anticipated to turn the tide for the Kremlin just a few months ago when appointed in October, and has been nicknamed “General Armageddon” for his brutal battlefield tactics. U.K.’s defense ministry wrote in its update that Gerasimov’s appointment was likely to receive pushback from some of Russia’s more conservative voices.
“The move is likely to be greeted with extreme displeasure by much of the Russian ultra-nationalist and military blogger community, who have increasingly blamed Gerasimov for the poor execution of the war,” read Wednesday’s briefing.
“In contrast, Surovikin has been widely praised by this community for his championing of a more realistic approach,” the thread continued. “As a now deputy commander, his authority and influence is almost certainly hugely reduced.”
Russian political commentator Sergey Markov offered his own interpretation of Gerasimov’s appointment, however, in series of posts on his Telegram account, writing, “The generals are moved, shuffled according to the principle, From the Front to the Headquarters. From Headquarters to the Front.”
“Surovikin is not punished and Gerasimov is not punished. It’s all one team,” Markov wrote.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote in its assessment published Wednesday that Gerasimov’s appointment may have also been a political maneuver by Putin to increase support from Russian law enforcement, such as Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The Kremlin also likely chose Gerasimov to support an intended Russian military offense in 2023, reported the ISW, given that Gerasimov has not previously pushed back on what the think tank called “Russia’s disastrous February 2022 war plan.”
“Putin has repeatedly demonstrated he misunderstands the capabilities of Russian forces and has not abandoned his maximalist war aims in Ukraine,” wrote the ISW. “Putin may have appointed Gerasimov, the highest-ranking officer in the Russian military, to succeed a series of theater commanders to oversee a major offensive that Putin—likely incorrectly—believes Russian forces can accomplish in 2023.”