This would be like deploying the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the front of a war that’s already in progress.
It’s the sort of thing you’d only do if you’ve accepted that things aren’t going well and are prepared to pull out all the stops in the name of victory.
Which is ominous, given what “all the stops” could potentially mean.
Ukraine will also be pulling out all the stops in the name of killing this guy, of course, recognizing that it’d be a momentous propaganda victory if they can pull it off. The fact that so many Russian generals and other top officers have died on the battlefield in the past two months has been a great boost to Ukrainian morale and a key ingredient in perceptions that Russia’s army is inept. Turning Valery Gerasimov, Putin’s top military man, into a KIA would dwarf all the rest.
Will their American friends help them target Gerasimov, having already helped them with so many other targets? Stay tuned.
Ukrainian news outlet Defense Express reported on April 27 that Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov will take personal command of the Russian offensive in the Izyum direction. Citing unspecified Ukrainian military sources, Defense Express stated that Gerasimov is already in-theater and will command the offensive “at the operational and tactical level” and claimed the Russian military failed to create a single command structure under Southern Military District Commander Alexander Dvornikov. ISW cannot independently confirm this report. However, ISW previously assessed that Dvornikov’s appointment as overall commander in Ukraine would not solve Russia’s command and control challenges and likely strain his span of control. If confirmed, the appointment of Russia’s senior general officer to command tactical operations indicates both the importance of the Izyum drive to Russia’s war in Ukraine and the breakdown in the Russian military’s normal chain of command.
You need only look at a map of Ukraine to grasp why Izyum is so important to Russia. It’s southeast of Kharkiv and west of the Donbas, making it a key artery for supplying Ukrainian forces in the east. If Russia can hold it and then push south, it can cut the Ukrainian army in half and encircle Ukraine’s troops in the separatist territories, portending their destruction. Russia could end up holding all of eastern Ukraine and then either turn towards Kharkiv or advance towards the southwest to try to finally take Mykolaiv and then Odessa.
So Putin’s putting his best man on the job. It may already be paying off, as U.S. officials have seen some improvement recently in Russia’s ability to coordinate air and ground operations. That’s allowed them to make a little progress in the east, although it’s reportedly slow going. “The attacks are somewhat better coordinated but with small formations. Company size units with helicopter support,” said one European defense official to CNN. “The lowest level of mutual support. In NATO this would be basic stuff.”
Observers are chattering about what Gerasimov’s arrival in Ukraine might mean. Eliot Cohen and Mick Ryan, a retired Australian general, each wonder if he’s been given an order from Putin essentially to win or else don’t bother coming home. Ryan describes Gerasimov as a “renowned” military theorist, albeit one whose ideas are untested on the battlefield.
19/20 And it is the place of most opportunity because it is probably the only location where Russia has any chance of an operational breakthrough that could allow them to tell their citizens (and their international friends) that the Russian military was successful in Ukraine.
— Mick Ryan, AM (@WarintheFuture) April 29, 2022
Given Russia’s logistical and tactical troubles, there’s only so much he can do. Meanwhile, his deployment means there’s now a vacuum at the top of the Russian military. “If Gerasimov goes to Ukraine, and no-one replaces him, who will oversee overall Russian military operations and development in short term, as well as any mobilisation?” Ryan asked. Which brings us to the second rumor of the day:
A senior EU source tells me: “Putin has now taken day-to day-control of the conflict and delegated the running of Russia to the Prime Minister”
— Mujtaba (Mij) Rahman (@Mij_Europe) April 29, 2022
Maybe … Putin replaces him, for all intents and purposes?
Fears are growing that Russia is headed towards “full mobilization” of the population in order to win the war, which may or may not soon extend to NATO itself. That’s one way to read Putin’s decision to send Gerasimov into battle, as a sign that every Russian must now be prepared to join the fight. But strategist Phillips O’Brien made the point a few days ago that “full mobilization” isn’t a magic wand that can be waved, with miraculous effects to follow quickly on the battlefield. It takes time and resources. With NATO weapons pouring into Ukraine and headed east, Russia doesn’t have time. And with western sanctions weakening the country’s ability to resupply itself, it doesn’t really have resources either.
Then you have to equip them. Again, all this blase talk about Russia going to full mobilization misses the fact that Russia is economically weak and now operating under sanctions. https://t.co/GfcpOjVgQv
— Phillips P. OBrien (@PhillipsPOBrien) April 28, 2022
Sure, they can get all their oodles of equipment that has been sitting around in storage for years, not being maintained, etc. Their front line stuff has already shown weaknesses. Imagine what the second-line stuff is like
— Phillips P. OBrien (@PhillipsPOBrien) April 28, 2022
As conventional options to turn the tide of the war drift further out of Russia’s reach, the temptation to turn to unconventional ones will grow. Buckle up.
How’s Russian morale doing, meanwhile? To all appearances, the great majority of the population continues to support the war. Most are poor and subsist on a propaganda diet of eternal national greatness that’s now supposedly under threat from the peasant Nazi hordes across the border. To Russia’s hyper-rich elite, though, the war is of course a disaster:
“In one day, they destroyed what was built over many years. It’s a catastrophe,” said one businessman who was summoned along with many of the country’s other richest men to meet Putin on the day of the invasion…
When 37 of Russia’s wealthiest business executives were called to the Kremlin for the meeting with Putin hours after he launched the war on Feb. 24, many of them were depressed and shocked. “Everyone was in a terrible mood,” one participant said. “Everyone was sitting there crushed.”
“I’d never seen them as stunned as they were,” another participant said. “Some of them could not even speak.”…
“Some of them said, ‘We’ve lost everything,’” one of the participants said.
Pretty much. The mysterious explosions that are sporadically occurring on Russia’s side of the Ukrainian border may also have begun to influence broader Russian opinion, although it’s hard to predict how. On the one hand, they’ll inflame nationalist pride. “The gall of those Ukrainian subhumans to attack a power as great as us!” On the other hand, the mere fact that Ukraine is able to stage these attacks repeatedly may lead some Russians to wonder how great their power truly is. High stakes for Putin.