Since January, Russian Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov has been in control of the “special military operation” in Ukraine.
His troops haven’t performed well, making his position uncertain.
Gerasimov’s Way of War
Gerasimov began his tenure as the overall campaign commander in Ukraine by going back to the basics.
Russia’s top officer doubled down on discipline. He demanded that all Russian troops follow the grooming standard, banned the use of unauthorized electronic devices, such as cell phones and tablets, and also prohibited the use of non-military vehicles.
These measures are reasonable and were meant to deal with the poor discipline and low morale of the Russian forces.
On New Year’s Day, the Ukrainian military landed the war’s single-deadliest strike when they used M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to attack a Russian barracks in Pavlivka, killing about 600 troops and wounding hundreds more. The Ukrainians had used the electronic signature of Russian cell phones to pinpoint the location of the barracks.
So, Gerasimov’s first orders made complete sense as they were meant to address underlying issues that were killing Russian troops.
Gerasimov also brought unity of command to Putin’s “special military operation.” One of the basic staples of warfare, unity of command was nowhere to be found on the initial Russian offensive. Indeed, the Russian military attacked with a complicated chain of command from three directions.
But despite having unity of command under Gerasimov, the Russian forces aren’t faring any better. Indeed, his leadership hasn’t produced much success, and the Russian forces are still struggling.
A Promising Offensive Gone Wrong
In January, the Russian forces launched a large-scale offensive in the Donbas. More than two-and-half months into the offensive and the Russian military has only achieved marginal gains in exchange for extremely heavy casualties.
“Gerasimov’s tenure has been characterised by an effort to launch a general winter offensive with the aim of extending Russian control over the whole of the Donbas region. Eighty days on, it is increasingly apparent that this project has failed,” the British Military Intelligence assessed in its latest estimate of the war.
Not only has the large-scale Russian offensive failed, but the Kremlin has also largely wasted the manpower reserves it had created after partial mobilization of September.
Then, Russian President Vladimir Putin called up 300,000 reservists, infusing frontline units with desperately needed men but also creating new units to act as mobile reserves for the large-scale offensive.
“After ten years as [Chief of the General Staff], there is a realistic possibility that Gerasimov is pushing the limits of how far Russia’s political leadership will tolerate failure,” the British Military Intelligence added.
Putin values loyalty above everything else. The Russian leader prefers to have subordinates who are loyal but incompetent rather than the opposite. And yet time and opportunities for something resembling victory in Ukraine are running out.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.