As anyone who has ever been promoted will attest, the first few weeks of your new role is often spent dealing with the mistakes and failings of your predecessor.

 

One of the starkest examples of this on the planet right now is the man tasked by Vladimir Putin to straighten out Russia's reinvasion of Ukraine which has not exactly gone according to the plan originally envisaged by the Kremlin.

 

Remind me, who’s in charge now?

 

General Valery Gerasimov was appointed Commander of the Joint Grouping of Forces earlier this month, replacing Sergei Surovikin who was only in the job for three months.

 

In a humiliating little twist, Surovikin now serves as Gerasimov’s deputy.

 

What did Surovikin do to deserve that?

 

In a nutshell, he didn’t win the war, but he also presided over a number of humiliating defeats for Russia and instituted tactics which failed to achieve their desired results.

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Around a month after his appointment, Russia retreated from the southern city of Kherson, the only regional capital it held.

 

Then over New Year, Ukraine launched a devastating attack on an unprotected compound housing hundreds of newly mobilized Russian troops in the occupied town of Makiivka, a suburb east of Donetsk.

 

Russian officials acknowledged that at least 89 people were killed, but Ukrainian sources as well as many Russian war correspondents said the death toll was closer to 400. Even the lower figure would represent the biggest loss of life from a single strike as officially reported by Moscow since the start of the full-scale invasion in February.

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Adding to Surovikin’s woes, his pièce de resistance – pummelling Ukraine’s population into submission by launching weeks of mass missile and drone attacks against civilian infrastructure – failed to both fully destroy Ukraine’s power grid or grind down its people.

 

What’s Gerasimov’s plan?

 

Basically, to create a large and disciplined army that can win the war in Ukraine. It sounds like a solid plan, but aside from being 11 months too late, Gerasimov is already being ridiculed for how he’s going about it.

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We’ll come back to that, but first it’s worth looking at what Gerasimov said on Monday evening in his first public comments since being promoted.

 

Speaking to the news website Argumenty i Fakty on Monday night, Gerasimov sought to double-down on the Kremlin’s excuses for not being able to achieve victory in a “special operation” which it genuinely believed would only last a matter of days.

 

Rather than sticking to the original narrative of “denazifying” Ukraine, Russia has had to excuse defeat after defeat as being a result not of its military failings, but of the alleged fact it is actually fighting the entire western world.

 

“Our country and its armed forces are today acting against the entire collective West,” Gerasimov said on Monday.

 

“Today, such threats include the aspirations of the North Atlantic Alliance to expand to Finland and Sweden, as well as the use of Ukraine as a tool for waging a hybrid war against our country.”

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How does Gerasimov plan to win?

 

One of his main priorities is to improve the “day-to-day discipline” of Russia’s troops.

 

The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) noted on Monday that since Gerasimov had taken charge, officers have been “attempting to clamp down on non-regulation uniform, travel in civilian vehicles, the use of mobile phones, and non-standard haircuts”.

 

Haircuts?

 

Yup, haircuts. This effort in particular has sparked widespread derision from those in Russia with the luxury of being able to openly criticise the Kremlin.

 

The head of the Wagner Group of pro-Kremlin mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said Gerasimov and the military leadership were “a bunch of clowns” who instead of focusing on important matters, were obsessing with the “glamourisation of the army.”

 

Separatists fighting for the Kremlin in eastern Ukraine called the move “farce” that would hinder troops.

 

And Ramzan Kadyrov, the Moscow-installed head of Chechnya, said the order was an insult to his Muslim troops fighting in Ukraine who grow their beards in honour of Allah and the Prophet Muhammad.

 

The British MoD added: “The Russian force continues to endure operational deadlock and heavy casualties; Gerasimov’s prioritisation of largely minor regulations is likely to confirm the fears of his many sceptics in Russia.

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Along with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, he is increasingly seen as out of touch and focused on presentation over substance.”

 

Is Gerasimov doing anything of… substance?

 

He says he is but how well it turns out is yet be seen.

 

Speaking on Monday night, Gerasimov acknowledged that Russia’s mobilisation of 300,000 troops had not gone to plan, saying: “The system of mobilization training in our country was not fully adapted to the new modern economic relations.

 

“So I had to fix everything on the go.”

 

Earlier this month Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said he would make “major changes” to the country’s armed forces, boosting personnel to 1.5 million – presumably clean-shaven – troops.

 

Gerasimov’s discipline drive is part of this but it’s yet to be seen what other big plans he has.

 

What might we expect?

 

Both Ukraine and Russia are expected to launch offensives in the spring, and we know the Kremlin is digging in its heels for a long and protracted conflict.

 

What we don’t know is the exact form either of these offensives could take.

 

We also don’t know yet if Gerasimov will continue his predecessor’s strategy of regular mass missile attacks against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, or if they will shift their focus to military targets.

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