The unexpected reshuffle in the command of the “special military operation” (Russian abbreviation: SVO) has elevated Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov to the post of commander, with Sergei Surovikin – on whom military bloggers until recently had hitched their hopes for a quick victory – being demoted to Gerasimov’s deputy. Pro-government commentators instantly began to explain that the strategic operations being planned by the Kremlin require coordination not only between the types and branches of the armed forces, but also with other siloviki
agencies, like the National Guard, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB. Their claim is that such coordination can only be carried out at the level of the chief of the General Staff. Other commentators are inclined to attribute the reshuffle to a behind-the-scenes struggle
between the main figures involved. Yevgeny Prigozhin, they say, had bet on Surovikin and at the same time smeared other generals, including Gerasimov and the newly appointed Chief of the General Staff of the Ground Forces, General Alexander Lapin
However, a much more significant fact is escaping commentators: 11 months after the start of the “special military operation,” Russia’s military-political leadership continues to experiment with
how to manage it. At first, a joint command was not even created (at least nothing was officially reported about it). Based on official information, the command of each of the four military districts led the fighting in the first months of the conflict. Each of the generals commanded units from “his” district. The air force and navy were subordinate to their own command.
That is seemingly what motivated the creation of a hitherto unknown body: the Joint Headquarters of the Armed Forces Engaged in the SVO, the existence of which became known from press reports after Putin visited it
. The very emergence of a “joint headquarters” spoke to the fact that a “joint operation” – with a command system and including combat units from the ground forces, navy and air force – had never been realized. It follows that the units and formations of various branches of the armed forces had their own management, support, supply and communications systems. The headquarters was created to coordinate them. Naturally, such coordination takes time.
True, in April last year, information appeared in foreign media (which was not officially confirmed) that General Alexander Dvornikov had been appointed
commander of the entire grouping. Finally, on October 8, General Sergei Surovikin was officially announced as commander. Now, three months later, there has been another shakeup.
With the appointment of Gerasimov, the command has been transferred (or gone back) to the General Staff. The official explanation of the Ministry of Defense is, to put it mildly, very general: it claims
that the reshuffle was due to an “expansion of the scale of tasks resolved during its [the SVO’s] implementation, the need to organize closer interaction between the types and branches of the armed forces, as well as to improve the quality of all types of support and the effectiveness of command and control of groupings of troops (forces).” This at least means that the previously created “joint headquarters” was not very effective.Tangled management instead of network-centric warfare
What is happening is a particular consequence of a bigger problem: Russia has failed to create a clear system of leadership of the armed forces. As far as one can understand, there has never been a clear division of functions between the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff. The command system is extremely confusing. For example, the Main Combat Training Directorate is part of the Ministry of Defense, while the Main Organizational and Mobilization Directorate is part of the General Staff. This explains some of the difficulties of the “partial mobilization:” the General Staff was recruiting reservists, while their training was organized by officials from the Ministry of Defense.
Such confusion in the command structure has been exacerbated by the desire to preserve an archaic military culture at all costs. In particular, we are talking about the expectation that any order of a senior commander be fully and unquestioningly carried out. This situation was quite accurately described
by the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army, General Valery Zaluzhny, with regard to Surovikin: “The Soviet Army welcomed and enforced one concept: the commander. But being a commander and being a leader is not the same. With all due respect to Mr Surovikin, if you look at him, he is an ordinary Petrovite commander from Peter the Great’s time… You look at him and understand that either you complete the task or you’re f**ked.”
However, the battlefield in a modern war changes so rapidly that scrupulous adherence to orders formulated in advance can lead to failure.