Russia appoints general with cruel history to oversee Ukraine’s offensive

Reports that Russia has appointed General Alexander Dvornikov to take over operations in Ukraine suggest the war could enter a brutal new phase while Moscow prepares for a major offensive in Ukraine’s eastern part, some military analysts said.

Dvornikov, who most recently monitored Russian troops in Syria and has a history of attacking civilians, was elected as the new head of state in Ukraine, a U.S. official and a Western official confirmed.

The appointment appears to mean a streamlining of Russia’s command path, as Dvornikov replaces the three commanders who previously led the war with one key figure ahead of an expected renewed attack in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

The decision could also acknowledge what U.S. intelligence officials have described as a failure to achieve the rapid takeover that Russian President Vladimir Putin envisioned, retired CEO James Stavridis said Sunday on “NBC Nightly News.”

“The appointment of this new general indicates Vladimir Putin’s intention to continue this conflict for months, if not years,” Stavridis said.

Dvornikov is known as the “Butcher of Syria,” Stavridis remarked.

Intelligence officials have said Putin expected the February invasion to be a quick and easy victory for the Kremlin, but that it was met with relentless resistance. Bringing in Dvornikov, a man known for his cruelty to civilians, is an attempt to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people, Stavridis warned.

“He is the villain that Vladimir Putin has summoned to flatten cities like Aleppo in Syria,” Stavridis said. “He has been using terrorism throughout that period, including working with the Syrian forces, torture centers, systematic rape, nerve poisons. He is the worst of the worst.”

Dvornikov monitored a Russian air campaign in Syria that flew more than 9,000 bombings, quoted the Russian newspaper Vedomosti Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying in 2016. The Russian warplanes hit rebel-held cities like Aleppo and Homs, killing dozens of civilians and turning the tide of war in favor for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In October 2016, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, described Aleppo as “a slaughterhouse” and “a gruesome place of pain and fear, where the lifeless bodies of young children are trapped under the streets by rubble and pregnant women deliberately bombed.”

A ‘more sensible’ strategy?

It is not only who Dvornikov is who is important, but also what his appointment says about Russia’s changing command structure.

So far, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had “essentially three competing field commanders,” said Mark Galeotti, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank.

The fragmented hierarchy “reflects the fact that this war was not really started by the generals, but by the ghosts,” he said, adding: “Putin and a handful of his former KGB allies have micro-controlled the process. There is a realization that this did not work, and now is the time to let the Russian army fight as it was trained and prepared to fight. “

In Dvornikov, the Russians have appointed a “high-flyer” who has been head of the southern military district since 2016 and has been tipped to succeed Valery Gerasimov as head of the Russian General Staff, Galeotti said.

Colonel General Alexander Dvornikov participates in a tactical exercise on March 17, 2017 at the Molkino base in Russia.
Colonel General Alexander Dvornikov at a tactical exercise at the Molkino base in Russia on March 17, 2017.Nikolay Hiznyak / Sputnik via AP file

Promoting him is part of a broader revision in which Russia will stop trying to fight on three fronts and instead focus on “another offensive to try to take the rest of the Donbas”, as Galeotti said was “a more sensible and achievable goal. “

It is still unknown whether Russia’s “broken” command structure will be successful in Ukraine, retired Army General Barry McCaffrey told MSNBC on Saturday. Putin’s military failed to take control early and now appears to have changed tactics, McCaffrey said.

“They have now gone on to terrorize civilians is our primary tool,” he said. “And Dvornikov was the first Russian commander in Syria to be awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation award primarily for dropping barrel bombs on defenseless civilians and using poison gas against them.”

The potential horrors faced by Ukrainians during Russian occupation were put in sharp focus last week after Ukrainian forces recaptured the city of Bucha near the capital Kiev. Residents described the random killings, intimidation and looting of Russian soldiers during the five weeks they were under their control.

Ukrainian officials estimate that hundreds of civilians were killed in Bucha, and they accuse Moscow of committing war crimes there. Russia has denied targeting non-military targets and accused Ukraine of staging atrocities to discredit it.

Asked about Dvornikov by both CNN and MSNBC on Sunday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan did not confirm or deny the appointment. He told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the United States “will do everything we can to help Ukraine succeed.”

He told CNN that “no appointment of any general can erase the fact that Russia has already faced a strategic failure in Ukraine,” adding that “this general will just be yet another author of crimes and brutality against Ukrainian civilian. “

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