June 28, 2024 | FDD's Long War Journal

Key Russian division gets new commander amid stalled offensive at Chasiv Yar

June 28, 2024 | FDD's Long War Journal

Key Russian division gets new commander amid stalled offensive at Chasiv Yar

The 98th Guards Airborne Division, one of the main Russian units currently attempting to take the eastern Ukrainian city of Chasiv Yar, apparently has a new commander. Although the reason remains unclear, the change comes as Russian forces struggle to advance in their months-long battle for Chasiv Yar.

The 98th Division’s previous commander was 48-year-old Major General Yevgeny N. Tonkikh. Prior to assuming that post in 2022, he had fought in Chechnya and Syria and commanded various units and formations within the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV), most recently, the 106th Guards Airborne Division. Tonkikh was promoted to his current rank in February and was still in command of the 98th Division as of early May.

This status had apparently changed by June 22, however. A Telegram channel affiliated with the 98th posted a message from the division’s new commander congratulating its recently reestablished 299th Guards Airborne Regiment on the 80th anniversary of its founding. The message was signed by Major General “R. Yevkodimov.”

While the commander’s first name and patronymic are unclear, the officer may be Major General Ruslan L. Yevkodimov, 46. Yevkodimov led the VDV’s Ryazan Guards Higher Airborne Command School since 2021 after previously commanding the 11th Separate Guards Air Assault Brigade.

One possible explanation for Tonkikh’s replacement is that he was killed in action. He would hardly be the first Russian general officer to meet such a fate in Ukraine. However, Russian or Ukrainian sources probably would have announced Tonkikh’s death. Long War Journal has seen no reports to that effect.

Alternatively, Moscow may have simply decided to reassign Tonkikh. The tenures of VDV division and brigade commanders can vary, but stints lasting two to three years are common.

Tonkikh would not be the first VDV commander to be reassigned this year. In January, Colonel Aleksandr Nemolyayev, who had led the 83rd Separate Guards Air Assault Brigade since 2021, took command of the 106th Division. He replaced Maj. Gen. Vladimir Selivorstov, who had commanded the division for the past two and a half years. That same month, Maj. Gen. Aleksandr Kornev was reportedly replaced as commander of the 7th Guards Air Assault Division, which he led since 2021.

The reshuffle came six months after rumors suggesting Selivorstov and Kornev were being pushed out, although it is unclear whether this had any connection to their eventual replacement.

A third possibility is that Tonkikh was dismissed amid frustration over Russia’s slow progress at Chasiv Yar, a small but militarily significant city in Donetsk Oblast. Russian forces from the 98th Division and other units have been attempting to take Chasiv Yar since early April. But Ukrainian troops have largely held their ground, buoyed by favorable terrain.

Russia has struggled to advance even after launching a separate offensive in northern Kharkiv Oblast on May 10 that compelled Ukraine to redeploy some forces from the Chasiv Yar area. In early June, assault units from the 98th Division did manage to secure a foothold in the easternmost part of Chasiv Yar. But Russian progress has mostly stalled since then.

Moreover, Russia has also had to transfer additional forces to Kharkiv, including from the VDV’s 83rd Brigade, which had been deployed in the Chasiv Yar area. In fact, according to a Ukrainian Marine fighting on the Kharkiv front, the entire 83rd Brigade had redeployed to Kharkiv by mid-June.

The reason for Tonkikh’s replacement may emerge with time. Regardless, Moscow surely hopes his successor will deliver better results at Chasiv Yar. However, as Kyiv mobilizes more troops and Ukrainian units receive Western artillery shells in greater numbers, Ukraine’s defense will probably only stiffen in the months ahead.

John Hardie is the deputy director of FDD’s Russia Program and a contributor to FDD’s Long War Journal.


Military and Political Power Russia Ukraine