Meet General Gerasimov, Putins new top commander in Ukraine

Ukrainian military ambush Putin’s private army

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Sergei Surovikin has been replaced as Russia’s top commander in Ukraine just three months after taking on the role. His substitution is Russia’s Chief of Staff of the past decade, General Staff Valery Gerasimov. Gen Surovikin, known as “General Armageddon” for his brutal destruction of Aleppo, Syria, has now been demoted and made Gen Gerasimov’s deputy in what is one of the most dramatic changes in senior roles since the war began on February 24 of last year. But who exactly is Russia’s new war commander?

Gen Gerasimov is now the equivalent to the chief of the defence staff in UK terms, former intelligence officer Philip Ingram told Sky News.

“He’s a big Putin ally, he’s been in a planning role – a major role since the planning of the Chechen Wars of 1999 and again instrumental in the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and this ‘special military operation’,” he said.

In 2012, Gen Gerasimov was made chief of staff of the armed forces and first deputy defence minister.

Described by Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu as “a military man from head to toe”, the 67-year-old has been a commander since the second Chechen war. 

Born in the populous city of Kazan, Gen Gerasimov’s military career began in 1977 when he joined the Northern Group of Forces and served in the Far Eastern and Baltic Military Districts, according to the BBC.

He then became the North Caucasus Military District Army’s chief of staff in 1999. That year, the Chechen War struck.

During the conflict, which lasted until 2009, 18-year-old Kheda Kungaeva was taken from her home before being beaten, raped, and murdered by tank commander Yuri Budanov.

Gen Gerasimov consequently rose to fame as he was involved in the arrest and conviction of Budanov, who was jailed for ten years in 2003 for one of the worst crimes of Russia’s “dirty war”.

As a result, Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist and critic of the Russian government who was murdered in 2006, described Gen Gerasimov as “a man who knew how to preserve his honour as an officer”.

In 2001, he became the commander of the 58th Army and later of the Leningrad Military District in 2006, of the Moscow Military District in 2009, and the Central Military District in 2012.

After he became Chief of Staff, he was instrumental in the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the Russian strategy in Syria.

In February 2013, Gen Gerasimov published an article entitled “The Value of Science Is in the Foresight” in the Russian trade paper Military-Industrial Kurier.

The theory of modern warfare, which combines Soviet tactics with strategic military thinking, involves hacking an enemy’s society as opposed to point-blank attacking.

“The very ‘rules of war’ have changed,” he wrote. “The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness. … All this is supplemented by military means of a concealed character.”

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And so, the Gerasimov Doctrine was born.

The Financial Times described Gen Gerasimov as the “general with a doctrine for Russia” and Politico published an article warning that this new theory “was probably being used on you”.

Now, Gen Gerasimov is overseeing Putin’s war in Ukraine with his appointment, according to the Russian defence ministry, aiming to ensure “closer contact between different branches of the armed forces” and to improve “the quality and effectiveness of the management of Russian forces”.

Gen Gerasimov — who was rumoured to be falling out of favour and facing imminent dismissal — has, according to Russian political analyst Mark Galeotti, been handed the “most poisoned of chalices” with Putin setting “unrealistic expectations”.

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