Vladimir Putin ordered yet another shake-up of his war cabinet yesterday, demoting the head of his forces in Ukraine after only three months on the job.
General Sergei Surovikin, who earned the fearsome nickname ‘General Armageddon’ for employing brutal tactics during Russia’s intervention in Syria, was named as Russia’s overall military commander on October 8.
During his short time overseeing the troops in Ukraine, Surovikin was credited with strengthening coordination, reinforcing control and introducing a campaign to knock out Ukraine’s public utilities as a pressure tactic.
But he also announced a humiliating withdrawal in November from Kherson, the only regional center Russian forces had captured just weeks after the Kremlin illegally annexed the area – likely one of the failures that led to his demotion.
Putin replaced Surovikin with General Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s chief of the general staff who was seen by many as the top architect of the invasion. But critics have already blamed him for Moscow’s military setbacks.
He also humiliated one of his deputy prime ministers on a video conference call, blasting the official for failing to procure civilian and military planes and accusing him of ‘fooling around’.
General Sergei Surovikin, who earned the fearsome nickname ‘General Armageddon’ for his brutal tactics in Syria, was demoted after just three months in command of Russia’s military
Russia’s chief of the military General Staff, Valery Gerasimov has been criticised for some of Moscow’s military failures in Ukraine, but despite this was promoted to overall commander yesterday
Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said promoting Gerasimov above Surovikin is ‘an indicator of the increasing seriousness of the situation Russia is facing, and a clear acknowledgement that the campaign is falling short of Russia’s strategic goals.’
The MoD added in a tweet that Russian ultra-nationalists and military bloggers critical of Gerasimov are likely to greet the news with ‘extreme displeasure.’
The Russian Defence Ministry’s formal explanation for the reshuffle was that expanded military tasks and the need for ‘closer interaction between branches of the military as well as increasing the quality of supplies and the efficiency of directing groups of forces’ prompted the leadership changes.
The move appeared to buttress Gerasimov’s standing with Putin amid growing resentment and dissent in the army. Gerasimov is seen as a loyalist with no political ambitions, and is likely to side with Putin on any strategic decisions – likely the rason for his promotion.
Surovikin meanwhile was made deputy in an announcement made not by Putin, but by defence minister Sergei Shoigu, who has also been widely criticisd for his bungling of Moscow’s operations in Ukraine.
‘The increase in the level of leadership of the special operation is linked to the expansion of the scale of the tasks at hand and the need for closer interaction between troops,’ said the defence ministry.
General Armageddon’s embarrassing demotion came as Putin expressed his rage at Russia‘s collapsing economy amid the failing war effort, publicly humiliating one of his deputy prime ministers.
The angry despot blasted Denis Manturov in a government videoconference for failing to procure military and civilian planes.
Putin (right) blasted Denis Manturov (left) in a government videoconference for failing to procure military and civilian planes, January 12, 2023
The video shows an aggrieved Putin telling off Deputy PM, Minister of Trade and Industry Denis Manturov
Putin accused Denis Manturov (pictured) of playing the fool after the politician, a deputy PM and Trade and Industry Minister, flew on holiday to NATO country Turkey over New Year
He accused him of playing the fool after the politician, a deputy PM and Trade and Industry Minister, flew on holiday to NATO country Turkey over New Year.
The video shows an aggrieved Putin declaring: ‘There are no contracts. What are you going to tell me? I know there are no contracts at the companies, the directors told me.
‘Why are you really fooling around?’
He told the hapless minister that he had one month to sort out the mess which has led to a shortage of military planes for the air force, and a failure to supply new aircraft to civilian companies that are hit by Western sanctions.
Putin stormed: ‘This all must be done within a month, I am asking you, within a month… Don’t we understand in what conditions we’re living?’
The chastened Manturov was seen bowing his head.
On the battlefield, a Ukrainian officer near the embattled town of Soledar in Donetsk told The Associated Press the pattern is that first the Russians send one or two waves of soldiers, many from the private Russian military contractor Wagner Group, who take heavy casualties as they probe the Ukrainian defences.
When Ukrainian troops suffer casualties and are exhausted, the Russians send a fresh wave of highly-trained soldiers, paratroopers or special forces, said the Ukrainian officer, who insisted on anonymity for security reasons.
Ukrainian officials denied Russian claims that Soledar had fallen but the Wagner Group’s owner repeated the assertion of a breakthrough late Wednesday.
‘Once again I want to confirm the complete liberation and cleansing of the territory of Soledar from units of the Ukrainian army,’ Yevgeny Prigozhin – leader of the Wagner group – wrote on his Russian social media platform.
‘Civilians were withdrawn. Ukrainian units that did not want to surrender were destroyed.’ He claimed about 500 people were killed and that ‘the whole city is littered with the corpses of Ukrainian soldiers.’
Ukraine’s military meanwhile said late Wednesday Russian forces had suffered ‘huge losses’ in the fighting.
Soledar, known for salt mining and processing, has little intrinsic value but it lies at a strategic point six miles north of the city of Bakhmut, which Russian forces want to surround.
Delivering victory in Soledar and Bakhmut after months of Russian frontline difficulties would help Prigozhin, who has criticised the newly promoted General Gerasimov, to increase his clout in what has emerged as somewhat of a rivalry with Russia’s military leadership.
Russian troops have struggled to gain control over Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and another Ukrainian province the Kremlin illegally annexed in September, after incorporating the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. When Russian forces withdrew from Kherson, the battle heated up around Bakhmut.