Valery Gerasimov, a decorated Russian general, took over the reins as overall commander of Russian forces in Ukraine at the beginning of this year, officially becoming Putin's henchman in carrying out the Kremlin's military ambition in Ukraine. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov during the annual meeting of the Defence Ministry board in Moscow on December 21, 2021.Sergei GUNEYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP

However, progress has proven to be mostly stagnant under his command. With a mutiny under his reins as Moscow’s appointed commander, Gerasimov's performance is marred by a lack of progress, and accusations towards him also began to simmer within the Russian ranks. 

Advertisement

Here’s all you need to know about the current Russian commander in Ukraine.

Who is Valery Gerasimov?

General Gerasimov has been a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and is the current commander of all Russian armed forces in Ukraine. 

At the beginning of 2023, Gerasimov replaced General Sergei Surovikin, who only served as Russia's commander in Ukraine for three months. In an ironic twist, Surovikin became Gerasimov's deputy and was later sacked in August. 

The replacement of General Surovikin was a likely move for the Kremlin to retain control over Russian troops due to the positive relationship between Surovkin and the Wagner group, which was slowly distancing itself from Moscow's grip.

Zelensky Says Peace Talks with Russia 'Tomorrow' if Its Troops Leave Ukraine
Other Topics of Interest

Zelensky Says Peace Talks with Russia 'Tomorrow' if Its Troops Leave Ukraine

President Zelensky, however, revealed that Russia was "not ready" to discuss a just and lasting peace.

Impact on the overall strategy in Ukraine

Gerasimov's immediate priorities after taking the reins were "day-to-day military discipline" of Russian troops, a move ridiculed by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and disliked by many among the mid and junior ranks. 

According to a British defense ministry report on Jan. 23, 2023, officers tried to "clamp down on non-regulation uniforms, travel in civilian vehicles, the use of mobile phones, and non-standard haircuts" under Gerasimov's new command, a move described as "presentation over substance" by the report. 

Advertisement

In April, Military Analyst Michael Kofman commented on Gerasimov's war efforts in Ukraine as "exhausting the force with an ill-timed, feckless set of offensive operations, whose gains will not change the strategic picture for Russia, but could leave Russian forces more vulnerable."

There has been no significant progress for Russian troops in Ukraine under Gerasimov's command, barring the capture of Bakhmut using Wagner's mercenaries. Instead, Russian troops are now facing all-time-high losses in their advance towards Avdiivka, a Ukrainian stronghold north of Donetsk city.

Connections between Gerasimov and Wagner

The most significant – arguably the only – achievement under Gerasimov in Ukraine was the capture of Bakhmut in May 2023, where Wagner, a Russian mercenary fighting force, core the brunt of the operations. 

Relationships between Gerasimov and deceased Wagner chief Prigozhin were strained at best, with Prigozhin often calling out Gerasimov as "incompetent" publicly.

Prigozhin also accused Gerasimov of withholding ammunition and supplies to the Wagner group in a viral video filled with profanities and cited a friendly attack by Russia's defense ministry on Wagner troops as the cause behind Wagner's infamous mutiny. 

Advertisement

Prigozhin demanded Gerasimov and Defense Minster Shoigu's dismissal during the mutiny.

Valery Gerasimov's background

Valery Gerasimov was born in a working class family on Sep. 9, 1955, in Kazan, Russia. He grew up with a strong interest in the military due to his uncle being a former tank company commander in WWII. 

Gerasimov entered the Kazan Suvorov Military School in 1971 and graduated two years later with a gold medal. He went on to attend officer training at the Kazan Higher Tank Command School.

Career in the Russian military

He started his military career when he was deployed to Poland as a tank platoon commander. Over the years, Gerasimov has risen through the ranks and saw combat in numerous conflicts. 

Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Valery Gerasimov at an extended meeting of the collegium of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation at the National Defense Management Center in Moscow, December 21, 2022.Sergey Fadeichev / Sputnik / AFP

Gerasimov took part in the Second Chechen War and was involved in the arrest of a Russian officer who tortured and murdered a Chechen girl. The case garnered massive media attention, and his involvement led to positive remarks from journalist Anna Politkovskaya. 

Gerasimov became the chief of staff of the Far Eastern Military District in 2003 and held the position for two years, where mass illnesses broke out among conscripts and became a minor black mark in his career. 

Advertisement

He was appointed Chief of the General Staff by then-new Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in 2012.

Syria

Gerasimov oversaw the Kremlin's involvement in Syria as the chief of Russian general staff.

Under his command, the Russian military provided and coordinated air support, training, and logistical assistance to the Syrian government forces, helping them capture key cities in the country. 

Russia also established a permanent military presence in Syria in 2017.

Annexation of Crimea

Gerasimov played a crucial role in Moscow's seizure of Crimea in 2014, where he coordinated the military operations and strategic planning. 

One notable action under Gerasimov's command was the use of "little green men" – Russian military personnel without identification who crept into the peninsula and laid the foundation for Crimea's annexation. Under Gerasimov's orders, Russian forces used a combination of special operations, cyber warfare, and information warfare to create a chaotic and confusing environment in Crimea.

War in Donbas

Ukraine had been well aware of Gerasimov's existence prior to the full-scale invasion, with the Ukrainian government calling him the "main ideologist of the war in the Donbas.” 

Under his command, Russian and separatist forces opened fire on evacuating Ukrainian forces, killing 459 Ukrainian military personnel and injuring another 478 in the Battles of Ilovaisk in 2014. 

Advertisement

A Bellingcat report also named Gerasimov, alongside Shoigu and other officials, as those responsible for the transfer of a Russian Buk missile system to the separatist forces, who then used it to shoot down the Malaysian MH-17 airliner, killing all civilians onboard. 

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (right) and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov at a meeting with the President of Russia in Moscow on February 27, 2022.Oleksiy NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP

Full-scale invasion (2022–present)

Prior to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Gerasimov denied any plans from the Kremlin to invade the country, calling the speculations a "lie" – an ironic statement given the later developments. 

Intelligence believes Gerasiov had an explicit role in planning Russia's war in Ukraine alongside high-ranking defense officials. 

In the early stages of the war, Gerasimov reportedly oversaw combat operations on the Kharkiv front near Izium, where Ukrainian forces had a near-miss for his assassination in a move discouraged by US officials, according to an Insider report

To suggest a correction or clarification, write to us here
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter