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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Russia replaces military chief in Ukraine after 3 months on the job


Russia has once again shaken up its military command in Ukraine, the latest sign of its faltering invasion.

Gen. Valery Gerasimov, who helped plan Russia’s stumbling invasion in February and who had served as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military chief of general staff for more than a decade, has replaced Gen. Sergei Surovikin as the head of the Russian forces in Ukraine, the Defense Ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

Surovikin, who had previously commanded Russian forces in Syria and was installed to lead Russia’s campaign in Ukraine in October, is now one of Gerasimov’s three deputies, according to the statement.

Analysts said the replacement of Surovikin, a respected commander inside the Russian military, with a Kremlin apparatchik like Gerasimov — who served as an architect of the invasion, including the failed battle plan to take over Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, in the first days of the war — showed that Putin remains focused on projecting stability rather than improving Russia’s darkening military outlook.

“They have taken someone who is competent and replaced him with someone who is incompetent, but who has been there a long time and who has shown that he is loyal,” said Dara Massicot, senior policy researcher at the RAND Corp. in Washington. “Whatever is happening in Moscow, it is out of touch with what is happening on the ground in Ukraine.”

In October, Surovikin’s appointment to lead Russian forces in Ukraine ended months of disjointed military operations that analysts said contributed to Russia’s disastrous battlefield performance. His appointment came after the Ukrainians recovered thousands of square miles of territory in a lightning counteroffensive in the northeast of the country.

Under Surovikin, the Russian military largely switched to a defensive mode, allowing it to reduce the military failures that had characterized the first half year of the war. He was able to conduct an orderly retreat from the southern city of Kherson, the only Ukrainian provincial capital captured by Russian forces in nearly a year since the invasion.

But Surovikin, who earned a reputation for ruthlessness in Syria, also launched waves of missile and drone attacks intended to cripple the Ukrainian energy grid as winter set in. The strategy seemed intended to demoralize Ukrainian civilians and erode the will to fight.

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