Russia reform puts top general in charge of stopping Ukraine invasion
© Reuters. A tank fires a shot, in the midst of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, in this screenshot released on January 8, 2023 and taken by Reuters from a video above social networks on January 10, 2023. State Border Service of Ukraine/via RE
By Olena Harmash and Clodagh Kilcoyne
KYIV/NEAR BAKHMUT, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russia on Wednesday put its top general in charge of its faltering invasion of Ukraine in its biggest-ever reshuffle of the country’s military. The country’s military command structure is in trouble.
It did so as Russian forces struggled to consolidate their control over the small eastern Ukraine salt mining town of Soledar after suffering heavy casualties, a day after leading civilian Contracting Army Wagner said the town was under Russian control.
Wagner is one of a number of semi-autonomous Russian forces with a high track record on the battlefield after more than 10 months of war that has shown the ineffectiveness of Russia’s core military force in a campaign the Kremlin has planned. ant will end in the next few days.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had appointed Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov as overall commander of the forces for what Moscow called a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
The move not only made Gerasimov directly responsible for the fate of the operation, but also demoted General Sergei Surovikin, who was nicknamed “General Armageddon” by the Russian media for his famous ruthlessness. .
Surovikin was appointed Russia’s top battlefield commander in Ukraine only last October after a series of Ukrainian counterattacks began to turn the tide of the conflict.
One of his first actions was to withdraw Russian troops from the right bank of the Dnipro River and the provincial capital of Kherson, the only place they have captured in Ukraine since launching the invasion in February.
The ministry statement said the changes were designed to increase operational efficiency and that Surovikin would become Gerasimov’s deputy.
Russian and Ukrainian forces engaged in intense fighting Wednesday on Soledar – a stepping stone in Moscow’s offensive to capture the entire Ukrainian region of Donbas – although the Russians appear to have the upper hand.
Wagner, who led the offensive, on Tuesday claimed to have taken control of the town even though Ukrainian resistance groups are entrenched in the centre.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that airborne units had cut off Soledar from the north and south.
But Ukraine denies that the town, which had a pre-war population of about 10,000, has fallen.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar wrote on Telegram: “Heavy fighting continues in Soledar.
“The enemy has again replaced his units after suffering losses, has increased the number of Wagner fighters and is trying to break through the defenses of our forces and take the city completely, but unsuccessful.”
The Kremlin also did not declare victory and acknowledged heavy casualties.
“Let’s not rush, let’s wait for official statements. There is a positive move underway,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “While tactical successes are also important, they come at a heavy price, at the expense of the great heroism of our warriors.”
Reuters was unable to independently verify the situation in Soledar. But a Reuters photographer who has traveled to the suburbs in recent days said many residents had fled along roads out of town in the bone-chilling cold.
She said columns of smoke could be seen rising over the town and artillery was not stopping.
With the war now in its 11th month, Russian commanders have targeted Soledar as a platform to attack the nearby city of Bakhmut, which has held out for months against the onslaught of Russia and is the center of the war. The center provides supply routes in eastern Ukraine.