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Russia-Ukraine War - Russia Shakes Up Military Leadership Again - The New York Times - 12.01.23

A general named just three months ago to lead Russian forces in Ukraine has been replaced with a Kremlin insider who helped orchestrate the invasion. The appointment of a Kremlin loyalist signals Putin’s focus on stability over performance by Anatoly Kurmanaev.

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

Gen. Valery Gerasimov, right, during a military exercise in Orenburg, Russia, in 2021. He was named to head the Russian military in Ukraine on Wednesday. Credit...Maxim Shipenkov/EPA, via Shutterstock

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

General 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 General Gerasimov’s three deputies, according to the statement.

Analysts said the replacement of General Surovikin, a respected commander inside the Russian military, with a Kremlin apparatchik like General Gerasimov — who served as an architect of the invasion, including the failed battle plan to take over Kyiv in the first days of the war — showed that President Vladimir V. 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 Corporation in Washington. “Whatever is happening in Moscow, it is out of touch with what is happening on the ground in Ukraine.”

In October, General 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 General 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 General 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.

His replacement with General Gerasimov was met with derision from some nationalist Russian military bloggers, who have compared the reshuffle to a game of musical chairs among Moscow’s ineffectual military old guard. The bloggers have become increasingly vocal in recent weeks in calling for an overhaul of Russia’s approach to war to protect its shrinking gains in Ukraine against an increasingly well-armed and -trained opponent.

“The sum does not change, just by changing the places of its parts,” a prominent military blogger, who posts on the Telegram messaging app under the name of Rybar, wrote.

Anatoly Kurmanaev

Poland says it’s willing to provide Ukraine with German-made tanks, adding pressure on Berlin to agree.

A Leopard tank deployed during a military exercise in Nowa Deba, Poland, in September.Credit...Omar Marques/Getty Images

The president of Poland said on Wednesday that his country was prepared to send German-made Leopard II tanks to Ukraine if an “international coalition” agreed to do so, further ratcheting up the pressure on Berlin to approve the transfer of top-level combat tanks that Kyiv has been requesting to support potential offensives against Russian forces in the coming months.

Poland had already decided to include the Leopards as part of a package from the coalition, President Andrzej Duda said, speaking at a joint news conference in Lviv with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and President Gitanas Nausėda of Lithuania. Mr. Duda added that he hoped the tanks would “soon flow through various routes to Ukraine.”

Mr. Duda did not specify which countries might be involved in such a coalition. But Polish officials have urged Western nations several times this week to band together and jointly send more modern tanks to bolster Ukraine’s diminishing supply of Soviet-era tanks.

Germany has long resisted sending Ukraine offensive weaponry out of concerns about escalating the war. And, out of ethical concerns, Germany places limits on its vast, lucrative arms exports and their re-export, so its agreement is required for Poland or any other country to send Ukraine the German-made Leopards.

Mr. Zelensky said on Wednesday that Ukraine expected a “joint decision” on the transfer of the tanks and that it would take donations from several countries to meet the needs of Ukrainian forces. “One state cannot help us with Leopards, because we are fighting against thousands of tanks of the Russian Federation,” he said.

The mounting pressure on Berlin comes a day after Britain said it was considering sending Challenger II tanks. No such Western-made battle tanks have been sent to Ukraine since the invasion.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, expressed hope that the floodgates had been opened for the West to send battle tanks after France, the United States and Germany agreed in quick succession last week to send lighter armored fighting vehicles: AMX-10 RC reconnaissance vehicles from France, M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles from the U.S., and Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicles from Germany.

Germany’s decision to send the Marders marked a significant shift in Berlin’s approach, and the armored vehicles pledged by the three countries are some of the most advanced Ukraine has received since the start of the war. Still, they fall short of the capabilities of battle tanks like the Leopards, which analysts say could be key for Ukraine to push beyond the grinding attrition that has defined the war this winter.

Anushka Patil

The State of the War

  • In the East: The head of the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary force, claimed that his fighters had seized the town of Soledar, which has become a focal point in Russia’s monthslong campaign to gain control of the key eastern city of Bakhmut. If the claim were true, it would be the first significant Russian victory in months.

  • Western Escalation: A cease-fire proposal seemingly aimed at splintering Western unity has instead been met with an escalation of military involvement by Ukraine’s allies.

  • New Equipment: The Western allies’ provision to Ukraine of infantry fighting vehicles signals their support for new offensives in coming months.

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