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    ISW: Putin wants a long war

    Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

    According to the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Gerasimov’s appointment and the overall command restructure are likely in part intended to signal Putin’s willingness to fight a long war in Ukraine. 

    Valery Gerasimov at the same time – according to experts – will not be able to achieve the maximum goals of the invasion assumed by Putin.

    “Gerasimov’s appointment and the overall command restructure are likely in part intended to signal, both internationally and domestically within Russia, the Kremlin’s dedication to the traditional power structures of the Russian MoD and Putin’s willingness to fight a long war in Ukraine,” the analysts estimate.

    They point out that Gerasimov has now become the superior of former invasion commander Gen Sergei Surovikin. According to the analysts, this is a political decision, strengthening Russia’s defence ministry in the internal competition for power. 

    Signal to Prigozhin

    During the 2022 war, the defence ministry conflicted with the faction represented by Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group mercenary units. Surovikin, meanwhile, was considered to be a rival of Defence Minister Sergei Shoygu, ISW recalls. “Gerasimov’s elevation is likely in part a political move to weaken the influence of the broadly anti-MoD siloviki faction and a signal for Prigozhin and other actors (in the dispute – ed.) to reduce their criticism of the MoD,” – the analysts conclude.

    However, according to the ISW, Gerasimov is not expected to ” rapidly revitalize and reform Russia’s conduct of the war in Ukraine to achieve Putin’s maximalist objectives.” The Chief of General Staff will, it seems, command a “disorganized command structure plagued by endemic, persistent, and self-reinforcing failures.” Gerasimov himself, through his role in starting the war, has contributed to these failures, the think tank points out. It stresses that the Chief of the General Staff approved the Kremlin’s plans to invade Ukraine before February 2022 and is unlikely to start opposing Putin now.

    The ISW, as in earlier analyses, forecasts that Russia will attempt a decisive frontal attack in 2023, possibly in the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine. The most dangerous scenario remains an attack on northern Ukraine from the direction of Belarus.

    Pardoned criminals

    Separately, the ISW considers the further development of the Wagner Group’s involvement in military action. The think tank highlights that there have been reports in Russia that Putin has secretly pardoned criminals recruited in Russian prisons to the Wagner Group. This will spur further recruitment of criminals into these units and grant them a significant measure of impunity for their actions in Ukraine. More unprofessional, poorly trained and committing atrocities troops will be brought to the front, US analysts point out.

    The defence ministry in Moscow announced on Wednesday that Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff since 2012, will replace Gen Surovikin as commander of a combined group of troops in the so-called special military operation, as Moscow calls the invasion of Ukraine. Surovikin, in turn, will be one of Gerasimov’s three deputies as commander.

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