Sergey Surovikin: the new commander for Putin’s Ukraine campaign

Sergey Surovikin
With him, Putin’s war could become even more brutal: he is Russia’s new Ukraine commander

Sergey Surovikin is the new commander of the Russian invasion forces in Ukraine (archive image)

© Pavel Golovkin/AP/DPA

Sergey Surovikin is the new strongman for Putin’s Ukraine campaign. The army general and pro-Kremlin hardliner has a dubious reputation.

Are the explosions in Kyiv and several other Ukrainian cities his fault? Sergey Vladimirovich Surovikin is the new strongman in Putin’s army. The Kremlin handed over military leadership of the Ukraine campaign to the 55-year-old general at the weekend. The change in commander could be seen as a sign in a power struggle – but above all it would give the war a different, more brutal face.

Born in Novosobirsk, the Surovikin is a man with considerable war experience. He was involved in the wars in Tajikistan in the 90’s and in Chechnya in the 2000’s. He became notorious above all through two other missions, as reported by the British “Guardian”, among others. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he, not even 30 years old, opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators in Moscow. At least three people were killed, and an investigation into Surovikin was subsequently dropped.

Who is Sergey Surovikin?

In 2017, the father of four led the Russian armed forces in the (civil) war in Syria – and made a dubious name for himself through indiscriminate bombardments, including in Aleppo. The Syrian government was also able to regain control over large parts of the country thanks to Surovikin’s help. President Vladimir Putin named him a “Hero of the Russian Federation” for leading the operation.

“For more than 30 years, Surovikin’s career has been marked by allegations of corruption and brutality,” writes the British secret service, according to the Guardian about the general. Among other things, he was in prison for illegal arms trafficking.

Most recently, Surovikin was commander of the more than 400,000-strong Russian air and space troops and was also involved in the attack on Ukraine in a senior position. He commanded Moscow’s troops in the south of the country.

The promotion of the hardliner, who is loyal to the Kremlin, to the position of commander of the entire invasion force is sometimes interpreted as Moscow’s attempt to pacify nationalist forces. In view of the advance of the Ukrainian army and the sometimes chaotic state of the Russian armed forces, they had recently repeatedly called for troops to be regrouped in Ukraine. According to the media, right-wing bloggers, field commanders and the private combat unit “Wagner” reacted enthusiastically to the appointment of the “responsible” soldier. The mere notification of the commander’s change can be seen as a signal to the country and to the army. The name of the previous commander of the operation in Ukraine was never officially mentioned, although Western intelligence services, among others, attributed this post to army general General Alexander Dvornikov.

Russia’s army has problems in Ukraine

Great challenges await Surovkin. After the Ukrainian counter-offensive, the Russian army had to give up a number of cities and regions. In the Kremlin’s logic, he now has to win them back and keep them, at the same time integrate the 300,000 soldiers who have been added as a result of the partial mobilization into the structures and prepare the armed forces for the winter – can Surovikin turn the tide?

Immediately after the attack on Ukraine, Surovikin was included on the European Union (EU) sanctions list. He is responsible for air operations in or against Ukraine. “He is responsible for actively supporting and implementing measures that undermine the territorial integrity, sovereignty of Ukraine, its independence and threaten stability and security.”

Surovikin’s appointment came on the day of the Crimean Bridge explosions. Kremlin boss Putin blames Ukraine for this – it is taken for granted that he wants revenge. And Surovikin, apparently, delivers. As evidence of the EU’s assessment, the Russian army has been massively attacking Ukrainian cities since Monday morning, and two days after the explosions on the Crimean bridge there was an air alert almost throughout the country. According to the latest Ukrainian information, at least nine people have died in the capital Kyiv alone. In a first statement, the British government described the Russian missile attacks as “war crimes”. The handwriting of the beefy bald man?

“Unusual and badass”

According to the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, the Russian news portal “Medusa” writes that the general is a supporter of massive rocket attacks, including on civilian infrastructure. “Surovikin has no sentimentality.” According to the pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, he can act “unusually and harshly.” Middle East expert Charles Lister describes Sergei Surovikin on Twitter as a “brutal, calculated” commander.

Kyiv: Explosions - dead in the center of the capital (Ukraine war)

But is Surovikin’s toughness alone enough for the Russian army to achieve success on the battlefield? Russia expert Gerhard Mangott told the news portal “T-Online” that the general was obviously more capable than his predecessors. “But he cannot fundamentally change the situation that has put the Russian army on this defensive.” In view of the challenges, one should not expect a secure military turnaround now.

Yevgeny Prigoshin, founder of the “Wagner” mercenary group, on the other hand, apparently relies on the new strong man. According to media reports, he was the “most capable commander in the Russian army,” a “legendary figure” who was born “to serve his fatherland faithfully.” The US think tank Jamestown Foundation simply explains in a report: “Surovikin has a reputation for total ruthlessness.”

Sources: “The Guardians”, European Union sanctions list, British Secretary of State Tim Tugendhat on Twitter, Charles Lister on Twitter, “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”(paid content), “T Online”, “Frankfurter Rundschau”, euronewsnews agencies DPA and AFP

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