Who is the new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine | Ukraine and Russia

Russia on Saturday named a new commander for its “special military operation” in Ukraine after suffering a series of setbacks in the territory and amid signs of growing discontent among Russian elites over the conduct of the conflict.

General Sergei Surovikin was appointed on the same day that the Russian army suffered a severe blow from the destruction of part of the Kerch Bridge. The route is the only link between Russia and the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014.

The appointment is the first for a battlefield commander general for Russian troops in Ukraine. The name of Surovikin’s predecessor was never officially revealed.

Analysts said the move could indicate that Moscow now understands its forces are in danger of collapsing in the neighboring country as Kiev’s troops advance in all four regions that President Vladimir Putin says he has “annexed”. The appointment could also be an attempt by the Kremlin to counter criticism that the Russian army is mishandling the war.

Sergei Surovikin during an award ceremony for troops who fought in Syria in 2017 photo. — Photo: Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Sergei Surovikin, 55, was born in the city of Novosibirsk, Siberia. He is a veteran commander who specialized in infantry for much of his military career, although he also commanded the Russian air force.

In Ukraine, until then he had been acting as head of the military grouping in the south of the country, having replaced General Alexander Dvornikov, who only lasted a few months in the position.

According to the European press, Surovikin would have improved the effectiveness of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, which suffer from a lack of communication and cooperation.

Russian tanks advance over the area near Mariupo along with the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine (Photo: Alexei Alexandrov/AP)

In the war-torn country, Russian forces have been especially beset by an inability to coordinate infantry, artillery and air force, while Ukraine has been pushing forward with its counteroffensive in recent weeks.

“Surovikin knows how to fight with bombs and missiles – that’s what he does,” General Kyrylo O. Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, said in June.

Putin during a visit to the Russian military base operating in Syria in 2017. Next to him is Colonel Sergei Surovikin — Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Prior to Ukraine, Surovikin had already served in various positions and was considered a possible next Chief of Staff, the head of all the country’s armed forces.

He has combat experience in the conflicts in Tajikistan in the 1990s and in Chechnya in the early 2000s, during Moscow’s war against Islamic rebels.

Surovikin also commanded Russian forces in Syria in 2017 in support of Bashar al-Assad, according to his biography on the Defense Ministry website. American commanders sometimes consulted him directly.

Sergei Surovikin in 2017 while speaking in front of the map of Syria — Photo: Pavel Golovkin/AP

In Syria, he was accused of using “controversial” tactics, including overseeing indiscriminate bombings against fighters opposed to the Syrian government. One of these brutal offensives destroyed much of the city of Aleppo.

In 2020, the NGO Human Rights Watch named him among military leaders who could have “command responsibility” for human rights violations in Syria.

In the Russian army, colleagues nicknamed him Surovikin “General Armageddon” for his hard-line and unorthodox approach to conflict supervision. “For more than 30 years, Surovikin’s career has been marked by allegations of corruption and brutality,” British intelligence officials said in a recent report.

Sergei Surovikin also has a troubled history that includes two stints in prison, one for leading a bloody military offensive against protesters in the 1990s.

During the failed coup attempt launched by Soviet radicals in 1991, the then captain commanded a division of marines that broke through barricades erected by pro-democracy protesters. Three men died, one of them crushed.

The soldier spent at least six months in prison for the incident but was eventually released without trial, according to a study by Washington-based conservative think tank Jamestown Foundation.

“It is highly symbolic that Sergei Surovikin, the only officer who ordered the shooting of revolutionaries in August 1991 and actually killed three, is now in charge of this last-ditch effort to restore the Soviet Union. These people knew what they were doing, and they know it now.” , Russian political scientist and sociologist Grigory Yudin wrote on Twitter, in reaction to the general’s appointment to command in Ukraine.

In 1995, Surovikin also received a suspended sentence for illegal arms dealing, but the conviction was later overturned, says the Jamestown Foundation. “In the Army, Surovikin has a reputation for total cruelty,” the study adds. He was added to a list of sanctions by the European Union on February 23, the day before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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