General Valery Gerasimov is the longest-serving Chief of the Russian General Staff – the country’s highest-ranking military official – of the post-Soviet era. Since 2012, Gerasimov has led a military considered by many to be the second-strongest in the world.
The veil of competence was lifted after February 24, 2022, when Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine again. A year later, the Russian military is exhausted and humiliated, though still capable of destroying Ukrainian settlements and lives en masse.
Since early January, Gerasimov – who Ukraine says was wounded in an artillery strike in April – has commanded the Gambit of President Vladimir Putin, the fourth general to oversee the Kremlin’s “military special operation” since its inception.
Another failure will forever erase the 67-year-old’s legacy. experts told news week that even Putin’s senior commander would have trouble salvaging victory in a war marked by systematic Russian failure and smoldering under his oversight.
“Before the war started, he probably didn’t really want to retire from the military, but from the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” says Mark Galeotti, author of Putin’s Wars: From Chechnya to Ukrainetold news week.
“He was already beginning to seek out the sort of jobs that a former chief of staff would formally retire with in recent years,” Galeotti said. “I can’t help but suspect that his main priority will be not to mess things up so much that he falls out of favor.
“But at the same time,” continued Galeotti, “he faces pressure from Putin to actually win something. Putin would be happy if Gerasimov could take the entire Donbas, but I don’t think he expects that. But he does, I think expect some trophies: Bakhmut and maybe something else.”
news week emailed the Russian Ministry of Defense to solicit comment.
It’s hard to see what Gerasimov can offer that Russia’s previous invasion commanders, despite his vast experience, couldn’t. “They have used up their stockpile of supposed silver bullets,” said Mark Voyger, a former special adviser on Russian and Eurasian affairs to then-US Army Europe commander Gen. Ben Hodges news week.
“I don’t know what construct he can suggest to fix something that is deeply flawed on an operational and tactical level,” added Voyger – now a nonresident senior fellow at the Center for European Analysis and a professor at the American University of Kyiv – added . “I don’t think he can conjure up anything dramatically different that could turn the tide of the war.”
Clearly, after a year of heavy losses, rapid equipment wear and multiple retreats, Russia still has some capacity for offensive operations. Moscow’s troops are once again pushing for new territory in the eastern Donetsk region around Bakhmut, while they are also reportedly preparing and launching fresh attacks along the southern front line at Zaporizhia and the northeast front at Kreminna.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said last month that Russia had lost the war “strategically, operationally and tactically.” Moscow’s troops are still fighting, though grand ambitions of Ukrainian regime change are now a long way off. The spring offensive appears to have begun, but even its regional goals of occupying Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts appear ambitious.
“The kind of feedback we’re getting from Ukrainian generals, but also from Western defense analysts, is that it was probably rushed in that it was launched before they were really ready, ahead of the mobilized reservists that are brought in to bring units back.” up to strength probably had a chance to integrate with the new units,” Galeotti said of Gerasimov’s new attack.
“You’re going to have some armies operating under very, very sophisticated political constraints.”
Putin had to take a step to show that Russia still can. Gerasimov needed to move, Galeotti said, “to show that he was an offensive general”, in contrast to General Sergey Surovikin, who had preceded him.
Surovikin — known as “General Armageddon” and “The Butcher of Syria” for his brutality in suppressing rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — oversaw the September withdrawal from Kherson in what is widely regarded as a successful Russian defense operation .
“It is clear that Surovikin was removed because he was not considered aggressive enough,” said Galeotti. “In my opinion, if Surovikin wasn’t aggressive enough for you, then, good God, what do you expect?”
There has been much debate about the so-called “Gerasimov Doctrine,” a term coined by Galeotti in 2014 based on an article published by Gerasimov in 2013 in which observers suggested the Russian general had developed a new approach to modern warfare.
The alleged doctrine proposed the heavy incorporation of hybrid methods to augment conventional warfare by destabilizing an adversary and concealing Russian military intentions.
Galeotti himself has since denied the concept, and scholars have suggested that Gerasimov’s famous 2013 article should be better understood as an appeal to Russian theorists to help create a new military approach based on a Russian understanding of modern Western warfare, as shown in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and elsewhere.
It is also believed that Gerasimov’s article was influenced by the Arab Spring and the pro-democracy “color revolutions” that Moscow has long labeled as products of Western covert action.
Gerasimov, Voyger believes, “challenged Russian military science to pretty much take this Western ‘silver bullet’, disassemble it, see how it works, and then put it into action.”
The pseudo-doctrine that emerged and helped shape Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014 also underpins Moscow’s failure in 2022, Voyger said. “You actually learned the wrong lessons from what the West did.”
“Yes, we fell [Libyan leader] Muammar Gaddafi, and look what happened with no ground forces. It all collapsed. Yes, we have lost weight [Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein, we thought they would greet us as liberators. And then there was an uprising.”
“Think of the ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ as their perception and vision of some sort of Western ‘silver bullet’ that they need to master as well,” Voyger said. “And they failed.”