The commander of the Combined Military Forces involved in the invasion of Ukraine, which Russia defines as a ‘special military operation’, has been replaced and General Sergey Surovikin has been appointed.
General Surovikin, who was put in charge of Russian forces in Ukraine, addressed a crowd of elite army personnel at a ceremony in Moscow in 2017, saying, “We have never for a moment forgotten that we are defending Russia while carrying out combat missions in Syria.”
According to a 2020 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, Surovikin’s ‘acts of defense’ of Moscow’s interests in Syria included dozens of air and ground strikes on civilian objects and infrastructure, where people live, work and study, according to an analysis by Sharq al-Awsat cited by The Guardian.
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Just two days after General Surovikin was appointed head of Russian forces in Ukraine, he began to implement his style with a series of missile strikes against civilian targets across Ukraine, including a large intersection near a university and a children’s playground in a park.
A former defense official who worked with Surovikin told The Guardian;
“I was not surprised to see what happened in Kiev this morning. Surovikin is absolutely ruthless, he has little respect for human life. I’m afraid his hands will be soaked in the blood of Ukrainians.”
Surovikin first gained notoriety in 1991 when he led a unit past barricades set up by pro-democracy protesters during an attempted coup by Soviet conservatives. Three people were killed in the ensuing clashes.
His reputation for ‘ruthlessness’ grew in 2004 when Russian media reported that a colonel working under Surovikin had killed himself after receiving a harsh reprimand.
His colleagues have since nicknamed him ‘General Armageddon’ for his strict and unorthodox approach to war.
Experts say Surovikin’s main challenge in Ukraine will be to solve the structural problems plaguing the Russian military, which is facing a fierce Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Gleb Irisov, a former air force lieutenant who worked with Surovikin until 2020, said the new general is one of the few people in the army who “knows how to supervise and streamline different branches of the military.
“He is a very ruthless but at the same time competent commander. But he will not be able to solve all the problems. Russia lacks weapons and manpower.”
Irisov also pointed to Russia’s previous leadership changes, which did little to fix the military problems in Ukraine.
But Surovikin’s appointment has somewhat tempered public anger among Russian extremists who have grown increasingly impatient with the country’s military failures.
Irisov said Surovikin had developed a good working relationship with Wagner’s special military group since he was in Syria.
He stressed that his appointment had been welcomed by critics of the recent war effort, including Chechen leader Ramazan Kadyrov and Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin.
“Now I am 100 percent satisfied with the operation,” Kadyrov said Monday morning on his Telegram channel, referring to the Kiev attack in which at least 6 civilians were killed.