The Russian Ministry of Defense Telegram channel posted video on Wednesday that purported to show Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov visiting troops in Ukraine and distributing medals for “the liberation of Avdiivka.”

The news that Gerasimov has resurfaced should finally put the conjecture that he had been killed by a Jan. 8 missile strike on a Russian command post in occupied Crimea to bed.

The Russian state news agency TASS first signposted Gerasimov’s survival in its Feb. 18 report that he and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had briefed President Putin on progress of the operation to seize Avdiivka in the Donetsk region.

The report quoted Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, as saying the pair had met with Putin at 4 a.m. on Feb. 17 to report on progress of the operation and again at 11 a.m. before finally announcing that “the operation has been fully completed and our troops have fully taken control of the city” that afternoon.

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Later, on the same day, TASS again cited Peskov who said that Russia’s Ministry of Defense was compiling personal lists of fighters and pilots who had taken part in the operation to liberate Avdiivka for military awards.

Three days later, on Wednesday, the Russian Ministry of Defense posted a video that purported to show Gerasimov visiting “the command post of the Center group of troops in the zone of the special military operation… [presenting] the Order of Courage and medals ‘For Courage’ to the servicemen who most distinguished themselves during the liberation of Avdiivka.”

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The report was soon picked up by Reuters and other international news media, although they barely mentioned Gerasimov’s previous absence or the relevance of his reappearance.

According to the news reports, Gerasimov was briefed on the current situation by the commander of the sector, Col. Gen. Andrei Mordvichev and discussed further operational steps in the Avdiivka direction.

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Putin had said on Tuesday that Russian troops would push further into Ukraine to build on their success on the battlefield after the fall of Avdiivka, where he said Ukrainian troops had been forced to flee in chaos.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CNN that Avdiivka would not have fallen had Kyiv received weapons held up by the US Congress’ failure to approve a large aid package.

Russian commentators are portraying the loss of the city as a major turning point in the war, and the appearance of Gerasimov is seen as putting the Kremlin’s stamp of approval on the operation as a much-needed victory for Putin ahead of the March election.

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