It has been a week since Ukraine conducted two deep fire missile strikes against Russian targets in Crimea on January 5th. British Storm Shadow and French SCALP cruise missiles were used to strike a command post near Sevastopol and a radar station in Uyutne near the coastal western city of Yevpatoria.
Visegrád 24 reported shortly afterwards that 23 Russian troops were killed in the Ukrainian attack on the Russian airbase in Saky, Crimea. Nine were purported to be special forces – and five “high-ranking commanders.”
Soon thereafter rumors quickly began circulating that one of those high-ranking commanders was Russian General Valery Gerasimov. WarVehicleTracker tweeted an image from the Telegram channel known as “Ordinary Tsarism” that suggested Russian President Vladimir Putin’s theater commander had been “in a command post near Sevastopol at the time of the attack.”
It is doubtful that he is dead. Indeed, on January 6th, former deputy chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ General Staff, Lieutenant General Ihor Romanenko warned “against believing rumors about the elimination of the head of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, in an interview with Radio NV.”
Yet Gerasimov’s continued absence from the public stage and Moscow’s ‘radio silence’ to date on his status are interesting. Gerasimov was last seen in public was December 29th, presenting awards to “military personnel who distinguished themselves during the liberation of Marinka' in occupied Donetsk region, Ukraine.”
It is odd that there has been no response to explain the whereabouts of Gerasimov – the commander of all Russian armed forces in Ukraine. Especially given the lengths the Kremlin went to deny the death of its commander Admiral Viktor Sokolov immediately following the Storm Shadow missile attack on the Black Sea Fleet Headquarters on September 22nd.
Moscow released a video of Sokolov participating in a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and other Russian military leaders on September 26th, then another the following day purportedly showing him alive in an interview posted on a Zvezda Telegram channel.
The continued silence from the Kremlin is potentially telling. Is Putin worried that Kyiv is actively targeting his high command?
It would make sense for Ukraine to take a shot at Gerasimov if the opportunity presented itself. A successful strike could very well be that single Jenga-like piece necessary to gain momentum and jumpstart their renewed ground counteroffensive. Putin’s commander is a legitimate military target, and both impact areas were in Crimea – a war zone.
Gerasimov’s death certainly would be a significant blow to Putin’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. By all accounts, he is one of Putin’s most trusted and tenured senior military advisors. A former armor officer with combat tours in the Second Chechen War, Syria and the 2014 incursions into Crimea and the Donbas, he was appointed Chief of the General Staff by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in 2012.
In 2013, he published a 2,000-word article entitled “The Value of Science Is in the Foresight” in the weekly Russian trade paper Military-Industrial Kurier. It would go on to become known as the Gerasimov Doctrine – a modern day version of Carl von Clausewitz’s total war theory, and one in which the current Russian military is built around.
It is based upon creating chaos across all domains simultaneously. Specifically, Gerasimov specifies that “the objective is to achieve an environment of permanent unrest and conflict within an enemy state.”
Desperate to retrieve his faltering position in Ukraine, in January 2023, Gerasimov was tapped by Putin to replace General Sergei “Armageddon” Surovikin, who served as commander of all Russian armed forces in Ukraine for less than three months. Putin was in search of his Ulysses S. Grant – a closer to bring the war to a conclusion regardless the methodology or cost.
But Gerasimov’s efforts thus far have failed to deliver the knockout blow Putin demanded. Worse yet, Russian forces were turned back in Bakhmut and Avdiivka at an abysmal cost, while the Black Sea Fleet was forced to abandon their headquarters in Sevastopol.
To date, the Ukraine Ministry of Defense reports that 368,460 Russian soldiers have been ‘eliminated.” Notably, the majority of those casualties have taken place on Gerasimov’s watch. Putin has his Grant, however his Grant has yet to find his General William Tecumseh Sherman who can close out Ukraine.
Nonetheless, absent a Sherman-like general, Gerasimov was able to break-up the momentum of Ukraine’s counteroffensive. Consequently, the US, NATO and the European Union are beginning to question further support in what is now increasingly being viewed as an intractable ‘frozen conflict.’
Gerasimov might well be playing for that result lacking a decisive winning hand. The bulk of Russia’s forces in Ukraine, consisting of mobilized Reservists, conscripts, criminals, mercenaries, and foreign fighters, have gone to ground for the winter – forcing the Ukrainian military to once again attack hardened defensive positions at a cost Putin believes the West will not support.
Putin is still putting bodies in uniforms and fill trench lines – and still fighting his style of fight, a war of attrition. Absent precision deep strike weapons, fighter jets, tanks, artillery and engineering equipment, Ukraine is unfairly stuck in a defensive struggle the West has tactically pigeonholed them into.
While Gerasimov has not been able to find a path to victory, his doctrine has experienced certain degrees of success. Particularly in escalating the conflict via proxies in other regional theaters including the Middle East.
If not for the Putin-supported Hamas surprise terrorist attack on Israeli civilians on October 7th, Ukrainian forces may have captured Melitopol, enroute to the Sea of Azov, and an eventual assault to liberate the Crimean Peninsula. Gerasimov, by escalating the conflict in Gaza and launching a Russian offensive on October 9th to encircle and capture Avdiivka, effectively blunted Kyiv’s summer and fall counteroffensive in the south.
Gerasimov has been able to achieve one of Putin’s major war goals: creating Ukraine war fatigue in the West. Nearly two years of sustained combat, targeting grain storage facilities and intentionally targeting population centers in order to weaponize Ukrainian civilians are taking a toll on Washington and Brussels. So too an unrelenting Russian propaganda campaign designed to discredit Ukraine’s battlefield successes on Capitol Hill.
We are also witnessing Gerasimov’s Doctrine in numerous other areas – the Kremlin maintains overt threats of nuclear escalation, actively draws upon ‘arsenals of evil’ in Iran and North Korea to acquire ammunition for their artillery, drones and cruise missiles, played a role in the coup d'états in Niger and Sudan, renewed ethnic conflict in Kosovo, and funneled migrants from “Morocco, Pakistan and Syria” towards Finland.
All distractions away from their battlefield failures in Ukraine.
So yes, removing the architect of the Gerasimov Doctrine from the battlefield is a valid and obtainable option for Ukraine. But does targeting the Commander of Russian Forces in Ukraine somehow cross a line for the Biden Administration, Brussels and the Kremlin?
Did the US provide actionable intelligence for the British and French cruise missiles used in the attacks?
Could this explain the silence on all sides – keep the story under wraps so as to not escalate the situation with Russia?
This was not an issue during World War II when 18 P-38 U.S. aircraft descended upon Admiral Admiral Isoroku Yamamto’s aircraft, killing the architect for Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, over the Pacific Ocean near Bougainville during Operation Vengeance. Nor was it an issue when the US killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq in 2020.
In time we will know Gerasimov’s fate – or Ukraine may yet to decide it for him before he can find his Sherman and burn down Kyiv.
More air defense weapons are part of the solution of defeating Gerasimov and his doctrine. But the need to enable Ukraine to strike back against the weapons systems launching cruise missiles and drones at their point of origin is paramount. The US, NATO and EU must act now – the burden of proof has long since presented itself.
Dead or alive Gerasimov and his doctrine matters. Defeating both is Washington and Ukraine’s best path to national survival.
The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.
Copyright 2023. Jonathan E. Sweet and Mark C. Toth. All rights reserved.
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