Russia’s top General Valery Gerasimov missing for two weeks

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russian Army chief of staff Valery Gerasimov are seen in Moscow on December 19, 2023. Gerasimov hasn’t been seen in public this year, and the Kremlin has yet to respond to rumors of his death following a strike by Ukraine on annexed Crimea this month. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/POOL/AFP/Getty Images

Russia’s top general, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, hasn’t been seen in public this year, and the Kremlin has yet to respond to rumors of his death following a strike by Ukraine on annexed Crimea this month, fueling further speculation about his whereabouts on social media.

Social media users began questioning the whereabouts of Gerasimov, who’s in charge of Russia’s war operations in Ukraine, on January 4 after Kyiv said it had struck a Russian military command post near Sevastopol and a military unit near the city of Yevpatoria, in separate strikes on the Black Sea peninsula, which was annexed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014.

The unverified rumor of Gerasimov being killed in Crimea began circulating after X, formerly Twitter, and Telegram users shared an image purporting to show a message published by a Russian Telegram channel called “Ordinary Tsarism,” which has more than 34,000 subscribers.

The message in the image read: “According to preliminary data, [Valery] Gerasimov, who was in a command post near Sevastopol at the time of the attack, was killed in the attack on Crimea.” However, a search by Newsweek found that the message purportedly published by the “Ordinary Tsarism” channel didn’t exist at the time of writing.

Although there is no concrete evidence to suggest that Gerasimov was killed in the Crimea attack, some have questioned the Kremlin’s silence on the matter, two weeks on from the incident.

Gerasimov was last seen in public on December 29 when he was pictured presenting state awards to military personnel who “distinguished themselves” during the capture of Marinka in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Since then, he hasn’t been quoted or mentioned by state media outlets, nor has he been seen in public.

In an opinion piece titled, “Where is General Gerasimov and Why Does it Matter?” published last Sunday for the Kyiv Post, retired U.S. Army Colonel Jonathan Sweet and former economist Mark Toth wrote that while it is doubtful that Gerasimov is dead, his “continued absence from the public stage and Moscow’s ‘radio silence’ to date on his status” are interesting.

It is “odd”, the authors wrote, that the Kremlin hasn’t responded to rumors that he had been killed in Crimea, given “the lengths the Kremlin went to deny the death of its commander Admiral Viktor Sokolov immediately following the Storm Shadow missile attack on the Black Sea Fleet Headquarters” on September 22, 2023.

“The continued silence from the Kremlin is potentially telling. Is Putin worried that Kyiv is actively targeting his high command?” they asked in their opinion piece.

Last year, when Gerasimov hadn’t been seen for weeks after a failed mutiny led by the late Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin on June 24, 2023, rumors similarly swirled about the general’s whereabouts, with some speculating about whether he had been dismissed, given that Prigozhin declared a “march of justice,” calling for the resignations of Gerasimov and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu over their handling of the war in Ukraine.

The Kremlin appeared to be quick to shut down those rumors, and published a video showing him on duty in Ukraine just a week after the rumors began.

“In this way, the military department responded to rumors about his removal from the operation that appeared in [Telegram] channels at the end of last week,” Agentstvo, an independent Russian-language investigative media outlet, reported at the time.

Jaanika Merilo, an Estonian-Ukrainian technology innovator and reformer, wrote on X earlier this month that she does not think Gerasimov is dead, “despite rumours or wishful thinking.”

“Gerasimov has a ‘habit’ of getting lost every now and then. In summer, he was rumoured to be killed or at least wounded . No proofs of that. After Prigozhin’s coup he disappeared for weeks. Reappeared. There’s no particular reason to think why he wouldn’t reappear now,” she wrote. “Remember, it is information war and just a fog of war overall.”

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