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Russia appoints key figure who planned Ukraine invasion as Commander of 'Special operation'

Former commander made deputy of General Valery Gerasimov

Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov (File) Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov | Reuters

In a recent shuffle, Russia appointed General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of General Staff as the new Chief of Russian Forces in Ukraine. It also appointed former Commander of Ukraine operation as Gerasimov's deputy.

Quoting a statement of Russia's defence ministry, TASS agency reported, "Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov has been appointed as commander of the integrated group of troops (Forces). His deputies are: Commander-in-Chief of the Aerospace Forces Army General Sergey Surovikin, Commander-in-Chief of the Ground Forces Army General Oleg Salyukov, and also Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Colonel-General Alexey Kim."

Sergey Surovikin was appointed Commander of Ukraine operation in October. Experts opined the recent setbacks of Russia in the war have forced Moscow to make the shuffle. 

Aged 57 years, General Valery Gerasimov began his military career in 1977 with the Northern Group of Forces. BBC reported that Gerasimov became chief of staff of the 58th Army in the North Caucasus Military District in 1999, shortly before the second Chechen war erupted. 

The reshuffle, which was formally ordered by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, clearly came on Russian President Vladimir Putin's approval, signalling that he still has trust in his top military leaders who have faced broad criticism for the troops' performance in the conflict.

It also suggests recognition of flaws in carrying out what Putin called 'The special military operation' in Ukraine. While announcing Gerasimov's appointment, the Defense Ministry said it was aimed at improving coordination between various forces fighting in Ukraine.

"Raising the level of leadership of the special military operation is linked to the expansion of the scale of the tasks being fulfilled as part of it and the need to organize closer interaction between branches of the military and to increase the quality of supplies and the efficiency of directing groups of forces," the Defence Ministry said in a statement.

Surovikin was credited with strengthening coordination and reinforcing control over Russian forces in Ukraine after his appointment in October. His demotion to the no. 2 role signalled that while Putin wasn't quite happy with his performance, he still trusts the general's expertise.

Soon after Surovikin was appointed in October, Russian troops pulled back from the southern city of Kherson under the brunt of a Ukrainian counteroffensive. The retreat from the only regional centre captured by Russia since it sent troops into Ukraine on February 24 came weeks after its annexation by Moscow and dealt a painful blow to the Kremlin.

In his turn, Gerasimov, who was seen as the top architect of the Russian action in Ukraine as the country's top military officer in charge of strategic military planning, was also widely blamed for Moscow's military setbacks.

His critics included Yevgeny Prigozhin, a millionaire businessman with close ties to Putin. Prigozhin, whose Wagner Group military contractor has played an increasingly prominent role in the fighting, has accused Gerasimov of incompetence and blamed him for a string of Russian military setbacks.

Such criticism was also shared by Chechnya's leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who deployed troops from his region to fight in Ukraine and repeatedly urged the Kremlin to up the ante in the conflict.

The criticism of Gerasimov from Prigozhin and Kadyrov rose to a high pitch in September, when Russian troops were forced to pull back from Ukraine's northeastern region of Kharkiv by a swift Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Kadyrov particularly accused Gerasimov of covering up for his protege, Col. Gen. Alexander Lapin, who was in charge of the troops that retreated from the Kharkiv region.

Despite such attacks, Lapin was promoted to become the chief of staff of ground forces earlier this week. His promotion along with Gerasimov's new appointment appear to signal that Prigozhin and Kadyrov have little influence over the Kremlin's decision-making despite their increasing public activity.

(With PTI inputs)

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