General Valery V. Gerasimov, who has been appointed the new head of Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine, is Russia’s top general and has often been described as the real head of Russia’s military rather than a defense official in the Kremlin.
General Gerasimov, Russia’s senior officer, replaces General Sergei Surovikin, who was in office just three months and previously led Russian forces in Syria.
Some analysts say the move suggests the Kremlin is trying to streamline the decision-making process related to the war effort and wants a leader willing to make decisions directly from above.
Ukrainian officials and some in the West have said Russia will soon try to launch a new offensive. In its statement on Wednesday announcing General Gerasimov’s appointment, the Russian Defense Ministry hinted at a renewed campaign and linked the decision to the “increased scale” of Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s statement also cited the need to “organize closer interaction” between different troop formations” and “increase the effectiveness of troop management.”
Mark Galeotti, who studies Russian security affairs, said on Twitter that the move was “an acknowledgment when we needed it that serious offensives are coming, and that even Putin acknowledges that poor coordination was a problem.”
The move is “at least the most poisoned chalice,” Mr Galeotti said. “Now it’s up to him, and I suspect Putin has unrealistic expectations again.”
The appointment is also seen as an attempt to keep in check the increasingly vocal Yevgeny Prigozin, whose Wagner group mercenaries have publicly criticized General Gerasimov.
General Gerasimov, 67, was responsible for planning and executing Russia’s recent operations in Syria and its difficult February invasion of Ukraine, which did not go according to plan. He has had a long military career, rising from a Soviet-era platoon commander to Russia’s top ranks.
This puts General Gerasimov in opposition to Sergei K. Shoigu, who heads the Russian army as Minister of Defense but has never served in the military himself.
General Gerasimov “is the de facto chief of the armed forces,” said Dmitri Kuznets, a military analyst for the Russian-language news agency Meduza. He said the fact that Mr Gerasimov was willing to carry out Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a plan that was clearly impossible from a military perspective – showed that unlike General Surovikin he was “ruthless” and ready to take orders from the Kremlin .
“We saw it at the beginning of the war,” Mr. Kuznets said, “when he was planning the impossible operation on Putin’s orders.”
General Gerasimov will wage a bitter war against an army backed by the world’s most advanced militaries, capable of inflicting painful and embarrassing defeats on Russia.
General Gerasimov was born in Kazan, a city at the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka rivers in the Republic of Tatarstan in south-western Russia. In 1977 he graduated from the Tank Academy there, and then, according to his official biography, served in the Russian Far East. He quickly rose through the ranks and served throughout the Soviet Union.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he served as commander-in-chief of the army during the second Chechen war. In 2012, as part of a major reshuffle of military commanders, he was appointed Chief of the Russian General Staff.