Alexei Nikolsky / AP
Last Sunday, US officials confirmed that General Aleksandr Dvornikov had been appointed to lead Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in a grim sign that it may pursue even more ruthless tactics in the ongoing war.
Dvornikov has been called the “butcher in Syria” after leading a brutal campaign in Syria’s civil war in 2015.
He has already been behind some of the most devastating attacks on Ukraine, including in the southern city of Mariupol, which has been virtually wiped out, and the missile attack on a train station that killed at least 50 people.
In an interview d All things ConsideredElizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Foreign Policy, broke down Dvornikov’s previous experience as military chief and what his new position could mean for the next phase of the war.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
About who Dvornikov is and what he has done
Russia does not release information about the person’s personality or special characteristics, but we can judge him by his actions.
Dvornikov oversaw the start of the Russian intervention in the war in Syria from September 2015 to July 2016, when he was replaced by another general.
And looking at his record during that time, he oversaw a campaign that combined a lot of disinformation and lies – and presented the struggles taking place in Syria as one aimed at terrorism and ISIS, even though he was not targeted at ISIS.
About Dvornikov’s reputation for being ruthless
The Russians ended up destroying eastern Aleppo to retake it from the rebels. This involved the use of unmanned aerial vehicle bombs, as well as cluster munitions and thermobaric weapons.
These [thermobaric weapons] are weapons that are often mislabeled, also in the conflict right now in Ukraine, like white phosphorus.
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[Ukrainians are] instead is affected by termite, which is significantly warmer than white phosphorus. Termite is used to melt metal, so you can only imagine what happens to the human body when it is hit by termite.
And we are also seeing strikes in hospitals and bakeries in Ukraine. These are all tactics used diligently under Dvornikov in Syria.
On whether Dvornikov is facing a tougher battle in Ukraine
The conflict in Syria is offset by its brutality, to some extent, with the Ukrainian, unfortunately.
But in other respects it is completely different. In Ukraine, the Russians are forced to fight a proper military that is well-supplied and well-organized, as opposed to disparate rebel groups that are not united or poorly supplied.
But when we face a proper military, we basically see some really embarrassing defeats, which Dvornikov must now apparently prevent from repeating.
What can we expect from his tenure
The conflict is likely to become more bloody, not because Dvornikov himself has been put at the helm, but because the Russians are unable to achieve the victory they expected to achieve very quickly.
So now that they are unable to achieve these military goals, they are basically returning to their kind of standard state, which is massive use of random fire. When Dvornikov took command of Russian forces in Syria, [he basically destroyed] the city and lead to mass displacement that has not been addressed. People have been displaced from their homes to this day.
Hopefully, in the case of Ukraine, when this war ends and the people will be able to return to their homes, resources will be made available to allow people to return and not basically maintain a situation of permanent displacement and exile, which Syrians continue to suffer.