Day 323 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Putin replaces the Commander of the Russian Forces after Only 3 Months on the Job
Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:
London: Russia uses paratroopers as rapid reaction units in Ukraine
Russian commanders in southern and eastern Ukraine are using airborne forces as "elite rapid reaction units", according to a British Ministry of Defense briefing.
According to the latest British intelligence reports, there has been heavy fighting in the eastern mining town of Soledar in eastern Donetsk region and near the town of Kremina in Luhansk region over the past two days.
It is known that since the beginning of the year, Russia has been redeploying parts of its 76th Guards Landing Division to reinforce the front line near Kremina. British intelligence claims this is being done because the Kremlin considers the area "very vulnerable".
The summary added that since November 2022, Russia has engaged almost all of its paratroopers in support of the ground troops on the front line in Kherson in the south of the country, but now there is a redeployment.
Meanwhile, former British Army Commander Lord Richard Dannatt told Sky News that if Britain wants to make a difference on the battlefield by sending tanks, it won't just be by sending 12 Challenger 2 models, as rumored, but it will take about 50 tanks.
Lord Dannatt thinks the Russians will launch an offensive in late winter or early spring, and the Ukrainians will really need reliable tanks to stop it.
Shoigu demoted General Armageddon and sent Gerasimov to command the front in Ukraine
The Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Army General Valery Gerasimov has been appointed as the new commander of the Russian United Group of Forces in Ukraine. By order of the Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, the current commander, Sergei Surovikin, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces, has been removed from the post of commander and is moving down one step, he will be the deputy of the new incumbent.
About the changes in the leadership of the special military operation, as the Kremlin euphemistically calls the war in Ukraine, the Ministry of Defense of Russia announced on Wednesday. According to Shoigu’s order, Gerasimov will be two more deputies in Ukraine.
These are the Commander-in-Chief of the Ground Forces Army General Oleg Salyukov and the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Colonel General Alexei Kim.
The Ministry of Defense of Russia presents the personnel changes not as a demotion or replacement of Surovikin, but as a "decision to raise the level of the leadership of the SVO." According to Alexey Kim, this is related "to the expansion of the scale of the tasks solved in the course of its (the special military operation) implementation, the need to organize closer interaction between the types and types of troops of the armed forces, and also increasing the quality of all types of security and the effectiveness of the management of troop groups".
In October 2022, Shoigu appointed Surovikin, who has been the commander-in-chief of aviation since 2017, as the commander of the United Group of Forces in the area of the special operation. So far, the general, who is also called "General Armageddon", in the SVO area has in his asset or more precisely in his liability the surrender of Kherson and the months-long battle for Bakhmut, as well as the incident with the destruction of the mobilized soldiers in the building of the Vocational and Technical School in Makiivka.
A day earlier, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that Gen. Alexander Lapin, against whom there was harsh criticism from those close to Putin, Ramzan Kadyrov and Yevgeny Prigozhin, is appointed as Chief of Staff of the Ground Forces.
The popular Telegram channel "Ribar" commented on the personnel changes that the exchange of places does not change much. The former military analysts of the Ministry of Defense of Russia, who are behind the channel, also recall the failures of Surovkin - the strikes on the energy system of Ukraine, which in any case did not lead to the complete and collapse, the decision to regroup on the left bank of the Dnieper, the problems with the mobilized, the tragedy in Makiivka and the appearance of the "musicians" in Soledar and Bakhmut.
British intelligence: With Gerasimov, Putin demonstrates a change in approach to waging war
“The situation is serious. By appointing the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation, Valery Gerasimov, as the commander of the group of occupation forces of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, Putin demonstrated a ‘significant change’ in the approach to the conduct of war,” stated the British Ministry of Defense in a summary of the collected intelligence information.
"The appointment of the head of the General Staff as commander of the troops in Ukraine shows the growing seriousness of the situation in which Russia finds itself and a clear recognition that the campaign does not meet Russia's strategic goals," analyzed the intelligence of Great Britain. It is noted that this step will cause sharp resentment among Russian nationalists and military bloggers, who increasingly accuse Gerasimov of mishandling the war.
Mark Galeotti, a London-based political scientist and expert on transnational crime and Russian security who heads the consultancy Beacon Intelligence, similarly assesses the personnel changes at Russia's combat headquarters in Ukraine.
"Putin's decision to appoint Chief of the General Staff Gerasimov as the new Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine is significant. Is it a demotion for ex-commander Surovikin? Implicitly, yes, of course - even if presented in the context of raising the rank of command," Galeotti wrote on his Twitter account.
“What did Surovikin do wrong? Nothing, really (not talking about his morals...). Yes, there have been all sorts of twists and turns, including the recent strike at Makiivka, but there are limits to what a new commander can do in 3 months. But Putin doesn't necessarily understand this (remember, with no military experience and a court full of sycophants), nor does he care."
Mark Galeotti continues with the logic behind Gerasimov's appointment:
“For Gerasimov (who was said to be out of favor and about to be fired... or who was Putin's right-hand man...) this is a kind of demotion, or at least the most poisoned chalice. Now it's all on him, and I suspect that Putin once again has unrealistic expectations. It was quite clear that there would be a spring offensive - that's why the 150,000 mobilized men, who were not thrown into battle, were held for. 150,000 fresh soldiers, however poor quality they are, will make a difference, but I don't think they will be enough for Putin. There may be some progress, but nothing decisive (and the Ukrainians themselves will be waiting for the spring offensive). In many ways, I don't think that Moscow's strategy depends on victory on the battlefield anyway - it's more about politics," Galeotti believes.
In continuation, the political scientist's important emphasis in his analysis of personnel reshuffles is that they are aimed at demonstrating to the West that Russia is ready for a long war and hopes that the West will lose its will and unity to continue supporting Kyiv, as in after all, Galeotti thinks Putin will be disappointed.
The signal Moscow is sending out to its military and society is confirmation that Gerasimov is needed, that there will be serious offensives, and even Putin admits that poor coordination is a problem. Although it is questionable whether Gerasimov could command Wagner and Kadyrov forces.
"Gerasimov is hanging by a thread. I don't think the appointment is meant to create a pretext for firing him, as the war is too important and Putin can fire whoever he wants. But he (Gerasimov) needs some kind of victory or his career will end in disgrace. This may suggest some types of escalation," concludes the expert, adding: "And no, the Gerasimov doctrine does not exist!"
The EU is becoming a vassal of NATO, Russia believes
The European Union is becoming a vassal of NATO, said the spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, quoted by Reuters and BTA.
The agency noted that Zakharova cited the signing of the joint declaration in which the two organizations pledged to deepen their cooperation in response to Russia's war in Ukraine.
In their declaration, NATO and the EU said: "Today we face the most serious threat to Euro-Atlantic security in decades. Russia's brutal war against Ukraine violates international law and the principles of the UN Charter."
They promised to "take their partnership to a higher level" in response to growing threats and challenges, Reuters recalls.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the move "confirms the full subordination of the European Union to the tasks of the North Atlantic bloc, which is an instrument for guaranteeing by force the interests of the United States."
She pointed out that the Europeans are facing "the unenviable fate of being an American vassal, losing their positions in world politics and economics and becoming more and more dependent on Washington with each step."
Zakharova's statement is in line with Russian efforts to portray the war in Ukraine as part of an existential struggle with Western nations that Moscow says are determined to destroy Russia.
Facing unprecedented Western sanctions, President Vladimir Putin said Russia would step up cooperation with other partners, especially China, to counter US hegemony and create what he called a "multipolar world".
The United States and its allies have condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, calling it an imperial land grab, while Ukraine has vowed to fight until the last Russian soldier leaves its territory.
Washington has denied Moscow's claims that it wants to destroy Russia, and US President Joe Biden has warned that a possible conflict between Russia and NATO could trigger a third world war, Reuters recalls.
Medvedev: Western-supplied tanks to Ukraine will soon “become rusty scrap”
The Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, believes that the tanks supplied by the West to Ukraine will soon "become rusty scrap" and that these supplies will not save, in his words, “the country that is falling apart.” This is what the Russian politician wrote on his Telegram channel, commenting on the meeting in Lviv between the leaders of Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania.
In Medvedev's words, the politicians in question "place their hopes on tanks. On any Leopards there, T-72 tanks modernized by our enemies".
"All this iron, in any case, will soon become rusty scrap and will not save the falling apart artificial state," noted Medvedev.
He added that some want to return Western Ukraine to its "previous owners" and for Lviv to be called Lemberg again.
“In Lviv, which will once again bear the name Lemberg, they” (Polish President Andrzej Duda, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky) “met to legally hand over the western Ukrainian regions to their new (former) owners,” Medvedev wrote.
In his words, the leaders gathered for negotiations in Lviv "suffer from imperial ambitions and phantom pains caused by their turbulent history".
Soledar from satellite - before and after the Russians
The hot spot in the war between Russia and Ukraine in the last few days is definitely in the area of the town of Soledar. It is located 10 kilometers northeast of Bakhmut, the main target of Russian forces since July 2022.
The Russians managed to invade Soledar and by all accounts they seem to have conquered it - University of Helsinki researcher John Helin found that in the westernmost part and in the center of the town, Russian soldiers were walking calmly without any sounds of gunfire or bombing.
Just to reiterate why I think Russia has a hold on most of Soledar.— John Helin (@J_JHelin) January 12, 2023
In footage that came out of the city today, both in places A, and B, we could observe relaxed Russian troops standing filming in the open with no gunfire anywhere in the background of the videos. pic.twitter.com/qkSDZPul6v
The capture of Soledar and subsequently Bakhmut would be a tactical success for the Russian forces, but it has long since become a strategic failure - the occupation will not bring back the thousands of dead Russians, separatists and "Wagner" mercenaries. Nor the spent Russian shells, which are expected to reach a critical minimum by the summer.
But the main victims, as always, are the local Ukrainians. On January 11, the American space company Maxar Technologies published satellite photos from Soledar.
Two of them were taken on August 1, 2022:
Two others - on January 11, 2023:
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