Citing Russian media without identifying any, the British Daily Mail has published a shock report about a radical change in Russia’s military leadership. According to the story, as published, General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of Russia’s armed forces, and Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov have been purged. The story goes on to say that Gerasimov has been replaced by Colonel-General Mikhail Teplinskiy. Meanwhile, a number of other news outlets, claim “General Armageddon,” Sergey Surovikin, also is missing.
Meanwhile, Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Coordinator of the Staff of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief claims that “Ukraine’s Defense Forces are fulfilling the number one task – the maximum destruction of manpower, equipment, fuel depots, military vehicles, command posts, artillery and air defense forces of the Russian army.”
Objective reports from the battlefield say that Ukraine has made very little progress and is losing more equipment and manpower than Russia. Moreover, it appears Russia has launched its own offensive operations in the north of Luhansk and is achieving success.
The story in the Daily Mail and Danilov’s curious statement may be part of the effort to jack up Ukraine’s prestige ahead of the NATO meeting in Vilnius. Ukraine is seeking NATO membership now, or short of that, an iron clad security agreement.
President Biden says that the United States is considering offering Ukraine a security agreement like the one the US has with Israel.
That US-Israel Agreement is not a pledge to defend Israel. Instead it says that support for Israel “has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy.”
The US-Israel agreement means that the US will help Israel maintain a qualitative edge against its (otherwise undefined) opponents, something that the US has generally done, except when the US has withheld some weapons as a punishment for Israel’s alleged behavior on some issue such as settlements or Gaza or Hezbollah or Iran.
It isn’t clear whether Biden intends to offer this kind of agreement to Ukraine unilaterally, or whether he intends to get NATO to agree to join in on such an offer. Biden’s problem is that certain countries may have doubts about any long-term pledge, or completely oppose any such deal, as will Hungary. NATO may content itself with some sort of statement about Ukraine’s importance and the long term desirability for Ukraine to join NATO. If any NATO pledge demands Ukraine’s pre-war borders it will damage any possibility of peace talks.
It is likely the Biden suggestion is a fallback position because efforts to get a stronger NATO security pledge or NATO membership for Ukraine have not met with success.
Trotting out NATO NOW supporters such as former Trump VP Mike Pence or badly damaged French President Emmanuel Macron, or Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are unlikely to be persuasive. (It should be noted that Erdogan’s statement supporting Ukraine’s NATO membership conflicts with Erdogan’s ongoing effort to once again play peacemaker between Kiev and Moscow. It would appear the Turkish president has shot himself in the foot.)
Increasingly Europeans are starting to see that the Ukraine war is undermining their security and is causing economic havoc. The French riots are a warning shot that all is not well in Europe. While those riots might be regarded as an internal matter having to do with France’s huge problem dealing with unassimilated North African and Middle Eastern communities, the riots also represent deep frustration in Europe and a shift in European politics to the far right. Add to this the fact that many Europeans have long wanted a Europe more independent of the United States. In fact, even Macron and his former counterparts in Germany and Italy, committed themselves to setting up a European command not linked to NATO. Now they sing a different song, but that does not mean there isn’t public support to be free of US domination. Ukraine has trapped them into following Washington’s orders.
Today Europe needs American energy, American security for oil and gas from the Middle East, and American military technology. Above all, Europe needs the US to fight for it if there is a war, as Europe’s defense capabilities are far from adequate to assure their security if attacked. While much of the world views the destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline as an attack on the Russians, it looks more and more that it was a US effort to cut Germany off from Russian influence.
We don’t know yet exactly who is behind the various claims about a purge in the Kremlin. But we do know that General Surovikin’s daughter says that the General is fine. “Nothing happened to him, no one arrested him, and he’s in his office,” Veronika Surovikina was quoted as telling the Baza Telegram channel, known for its contacts in the Russian security services. It is interesting that despite what Ms. Surovikina says, the press insists that Surovikin is missing.
We will have to wait and see if there is a purge in Russia and who are its victims. It is quite interesting that while the press is full of news about Russian generals, it fails to report that Prigozhin also is missing. He hasn’t been seen for many days. The Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said that Prigozhin wasn’t in Belarus, as was agreed earlier, but had gone back to St. Petersburg and, maybe, also traveled to Moscow.
There were two reports after the big raid on Prigozhin’s mansion in St. Petersburg,. The first is Prigozhin had come back to his home to retrieve some of the seized items, including guns, gold and cash. The second is a report that gave a different locus for Prigozhin. It said that Prigozhin reported to the FSB (Russian intelligence) office in St. Petersburg where he allegedly received his seized material, or at least some of it.
Both stories about Prigozhin are fraught with problems. How come nobody saw him? How could he stuff all the seized stuff inside his limousine? Was Lukashenko hinting that Prigozhin had been brought back to St. Petersburg rather than gone there on his own? Was Lukashenko’s hint about Moscow revealing where Prigozhin is now? Meanwhile, in Belarus, work has stopped on the camp constructed for Wagner forces who decided to stick with Prigozhin. In fact, none of those forces have been seen in Belarus.
The official Russian press (RT, Sputnik News, Tass, Izvestia) continue to report about the raid on Prigozhin’s home and portray him in very negative terms. According to some reports, Prigozhin’s popularity declined substantially with the coup attempt, and now is plunging even further as he is being portrayed as a traitor and a thief.
There are still big questions about who was complicit in Prigozhin’s attempt to seize power. Many commentators have said that Prigozhin’s foray was not a coup because he entered Rostov with a very small force, and only a part of that force carried on toward Moscow, meaning that it had no chance to win a fight with the army if there was one. But the idea clearly was that Prigozhin was going to get support from the Russian army, but not its top top leadership, whom he despised and wanted executed by firing squad. The fact that the Russian army moved very slowly against Prigozhin and that the FSB, Presidential Guards and Chechen units were preparing to defend Moscow, suggest there was a real fear in the Kremlin that Prigozhin really had support for his takeover of the Russian government. As everyone now knows, while there may have been passive support, Prigozhin could not rally the army or the security services to openly switch sides. Surovikin himself, put out a video from his I-Phone telling the Wagner’s to halt and not fight against Russia. Was he trying to protect himself if the coup failed? Or was the appeal genuine?
It is important for Ukraine and Washington at the NATO meeting to be able to say that Russia is in crisis, that Russian forces are being worn away, and that there is a concrete chance of victory against the Russian invasion in Ukraine. Much of the news, seen in that light, is an effort to shape the NATO meeting and get a favorable outcome.
On the other hand, what is being worn away is Ukraine’s manpower and equipment and Europe’s future security.
In Soviet days it was easy to see who was in and who was out. They lined up on the Kremlin wall, and depending where they stood, you could figure their prominence. If they did not show up most of the time they were liquidated. It is harder now to be sure.