Russia names Gen. Sergei Surovikin as new commander for the war in Ukraine

Russia’s Defense Ministry on Saturday named a new commander for its forces in Ukraine, appointing a career general to the post, as Moscow’s troops face serious setbacks on the battlefield.

It said in a statement that Gen. Sergei Surovikin had been appointed to lead troops in the “special military operation” — using the language President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has designated to refer to the war.

The announcement — buried in a broader evening update from the ministry — was a rare acknowledgment of a personnel change from the ministry and comes at a time when Moscow’s forces have been under deep pressure, with its fighters on the run across a broad swath of the front line in Ukraine. The Defense Ministry announced a high-level leadership shake-up last month after an embarrassing rout of its forces in northeast Ukraine.

General Surovikin, 55, had been leading troops in Ukraine’s south, where Kyiv’s forces have been waging a counteroffensive to reclaim territory from Russia.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said late Thursday that his troops had recaptured more than 200 square miles of territory and dozens of settlements of villages from Russian forces in the southern Kherson region since the start of the month.

With General Surovikin, the Kremlin is putting in charge a decorated commander with extensive battlefield experience in Ukraine and beyond — and a reputation for brutality.

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

Before Ukraine, General Surovikin had served in a variety of roles. He was in Chechnya in the early 2000s and led Russian forces in Syria, according to his biography on the Defense Ministry’s website and state media. Human Rights Watch said in 2020 that he was among military leaders who might bear “command responsibility for violations” in Syria.

“For over thirty years, Surovikin’s career has been dogged with allegations of corruption and brutality,” Britain’s Defense Ministry said in June.

General Surovikin spent at least six months in prison after soldiers under his command killed three protesters in Moscow amid a failed August 1991 coup, but he was eventually released without trial. He also in 1995 received a suspended sentence for illegal arms trade, according to a paper from the Jamestown Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, which added that the conviction was later overturned.

“In the army, Surovikin has a reputation for total ruthlessness,” the paper added.

He was placed on a European Union sanctions list on Feb. 23 — the day before Russia invaded Ukraine — and was listed as the commander-in-chief of Russian Aerospace Forces.

Russia reorganized the command of its offensive in Ukraine in April, appointing Gen. Aleksandr V. Dvornikov, in what was widely viewed as an acknowledgment that the initial Russian war plan was failing.

“As such, he is responsible for air operations in or to Ukraine,” the sanctions designation read. “He is therefore responsible for actively supporting and implementing actions and policies that undermine and threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine as well as the stability or security in Ukraine.”


Arab Observer

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