Russia’s Defense Ministry on Saturday appointed a general known for his ruthlessness and long experience in fighting complicated wars to command its forces in Ukraine, where repeated defeats has led to widespread criticism of the military as incompetent.
General Sergei Surovikin, 55, who is already the commanding officer of the Southern Military District and whose troops have faced a fierce Ukrainian counteroffensive, will lead what Russia calls “the military operation.” special,” the ministry said in a statement.
Although the general specialized in infantry for most of his career, he also commanded the Russian air force. He led Russian forces in Syria starting in 2015, and American commanders sometimes consulted directly with him there to avoid clashes.
In Ukraine, Russian forces have been particularly troubled by an inability to coordinate ground, artillery and air forces, as Ukraine has launched an offensive in recent weeks.
“Surovikin knows how to fight bombers and missiles – that’s what he does,” General Kyrylo O. Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, said in June.
Military analysts say he has long been known for corruption and brutality.
“He was known to be a rather ruthless commander, flawed with his subordinates, and famous for his commanding actions,” said Michael Kofman, director of Russia studies at CNA, a defense think-tank based in Virginia. hot temper.
In fact, General Surovikin is believed to have commanded Russian troops in Ukraine, even though he has not been formally appointed to the position, Kofman said. It’s unclear whether the announced change, buried among other categories in the official press release, makes much of a difference in practice. Just last month, the Defense Ministry made a rare announcement of a change in senior leadership following an embarrassing move of forces in northeastern Ukraine.
The Eastern Military District is also about to have a new commander, Lieutenant General Rustam Muradov, who previously commanded Russian troops in the occupied Donbas region of Ukraine, according to a social media post by a senior official also as the state registry. The Department of Defense has yet to confirm that change on Saturday.
Even with personnel changes, analysts say, it will be difficult for any one officer to make a difference given the structural problems plaguing the Russian military.
“That won’t solve all of their problems,” said Frederick B. Hodges, a former commander of US troops in Europe. “All the problems are institutional flaws, deeply rooted – corruption, lack of readiness.”
In a potential sign that the appointment was made to appease some of the right-wing factions close to President Vladimir V. Putin who have been openly critical of the military, said Yevgeny Prigozhin, the group’s founder. Wagner mercenaries are heavily deployed in Syria, launched. a rare public approval of the general, calling him a “legend”.
“Surovikin is the most talented commander in the Russian army,” Prigozhin said in a statement quoted by Live 24 news agency.
Before Ukraine, General Surovikin had taken on a variety of roles and he was seen as the next possible chief of staff, the head of the entire armed forces.
He was in Chechnya in the early 2000s and led Russian forces in Syria, according to his biography on the website of the Ministry of Defense and state media. Human Rights Watch said in 2020 that he was among military leaders who could bear “command responsibility” for human rights abuses in Syria.
General Surovikin spent at least six months in prison after soldiers under his command killed three Moscow protesters during a failed coup attempt in August 1991, but was eventually released without trial. , according to an article from the Jamestown Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. In 1995, he also received a suspended sentence for illegal arms trafficking, the newspaper said, adding that the sentence was later overturned.
The newspaper added: “In the military, Surovikin was known for his utter ruthlessness.
He was placed on the European Union sanctions list on February 23, the day before Russia invaded Ukraine.