While Russian official sources have not confirmed that Valery Gerasimov has been stepped down as commander-in-chief of Russian forces - forces involved in the invasion of Ukraine - there are without a doubt very serious problems and uncertainties within the leadership structure of the Russian military, security expert Rainer Saks says.
An article published by the independent Moscow Times (link in Russian) on Saturday claims that the Kremlin has relieved Gerasimov of his command, adding he is to be replaced by Mikhail Teplinsky. The latter has been commander of the Russian Airborne Forces since June 2022 (Gerasimov was appointed Chief of the General Staff over a decade ago-ed.).
Speaking to Vikerraadio's "Vikerhommik" Monday, Saks said that while the article's claims have not been corroborated by official sources, they have also not been refuted, which amounts to a sign that there is still uncertainty in the Kremlin.
"As for Teplinsky, he was promoted to the commander of the airborne forces. This post is one of the most important positions in the army. This force had already been developed during the Soviet era, but more so in the last 15-20 years. They are the most prominent, elite and best-equipped military. Perhaps in this sense, Teplinsky is a prominent figure," Saks added.
He added that Teplinsky has also been considered close to Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. The Russian media is also trying to create the impression that Vladimir Putin is fulfilling Prigozhin's demands to replace Gerasimov and also Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, at whom much of the uprising's ire was directed.
"However, all this is speculation, which we can evaluate in retrospect as to whether such exchanges will still take place, he went on.
However, Rainer Saks does not find Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's statements about the possibility of a new rebellion in Russia to be very credible.
"The Ukrainian side has not been able to capitalize on Prigozhin's abortive coup very well in its info ops. The likelihood of a new uprising has risen due to Prigozhin's activities, but to claim that a new one is about to break out, well there are no direct signs of that happening," he added.
"However, if the war continues, with no successes and casualties remaining high, then of course the likelihood rises," he added.
On the issue of this week's NATO summit in Vilnius and the messages arising therefrom which will be sent to Ukraine, Saks said that on thing that is certain is that Ukraine will not receive an invite to start the membership application process to NATO for as long as the current war continues.
"Ukraine is carrying out intensive work to make the Vilnius document as strong as possible. The question is how to shape that document in a way that Ukraine has a clear NATO roadmap, what Ukraine's security guarantees are, that is, how to put together a process in a way that Russia can be left in no doubt that Ukraine will remain supported right up until the point that its territory has been liberated," Saks went on.
Reports in the international media have it that in fact Valery Gerasimov was shown on Russian state TV Monday morning, apparently still in the commander in chief post.
Following last month's abortive coup, Yevgeny Prigozhin, along with Wagner mercenaries, was given the option to relocate to Belarus, in order for charges to be dropped.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Urmet Kook
Source: 'Vikerhommik', interviewers Kirke Ert, Taavi Libe.