Russia has appointed a notorious general who opened fire on pro-democracy protesters in the 1990s as its first overall commander for the war in Ukraine, as the Kremlin struggles to halt a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has left its forces in disarray.
The appointment of Gen Sergei Surovikin came on the same day as Vladimir Putin was dealt a humiliating blow after an explosion on the Kerch bridge sank a section of the motorway into the Kerch Strait and caused a major fire on the railway.
Surovikin is a veteran commander who led the Russian military expedition in Syria in 2017, where he was accused of using “controversial” tactics including indiscriminate bombing against anti-government fighters.
His appointment is the first of an overall battlefield commander for Russian troops in Ukraine. It may indicate that Moscow now understands that its military is in danger of collapse in Ukraine, with Kyiv’s forces advancing in all four of the regions that Putin claims to have “annexed”.
A former head of the Russian Aerospace Forces, Surovikin was installed in the summer as head of the southern military grouping, replacing Gen Alexander Dvornikov, who lasted just months in the position.
He is seen as having improved the effectiveness of Russian forces fighting in east Ukraine, where poor communication and cooperation has plagued the Russian invasion force.
Yet Surovikin also has a checkered history that includes two stints in jail for allegedly selling weapons and for leading a military column against protesters during the 1991 coup. He has also previously served in Tajikistan and Chechnya.
“For over 30 years, Surovikin’s career has been dogged with allegations of corruption and brutality,” wrote British intelligence officials in a recent report on Surovikin’s likely promotion to lead the southern military group. [Continue reading…]