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General spearheading Syria bombing, new face of Russian war

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Implementing President Vladimir Putin’s new military strategy in Ukraine, the general became notorious for brutality for bombing civilians in Russia’s offensive in Syria. He also played a role in the deaths of three protesters in Moscow during the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 that precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Bald and fierce-looking, General Sergei Surovikin was appointed head of Russian forces in Ukraine on October 8, following a hitherto faltering invasion that saw a series of chaotic retreats and other setbacks over the course of nearly eight months of war. .

Putin commands 56-year-old career military man after an apparent truck bombing of the strategic bridge to the Crimean Peninsula this embarrassed the Kremlin and created logistical problems for the Russian forces.

Russia responded with a barrage of strikes across Ukraine, which Putin said was aimed at destroying the energy infrastructure and Ukrainian military command centers. Such attacks continued daily, hitting power plants and other facilities with cruise missiles and Iranian-made drones.

Surovikin also holds the post of chief of the air force, a position that can help coordinate airstrikes with other operations.

During the latest bombardments, some Russian war bloggers made a statement attributed to Surovikin, indicating his intention to continue the attacks with relentless force to subdue the Kyiv government.

“I don’t want to sacrifice the lives of Russian soldiers in a guerrilla war against the fanatical armies armed by NATO,” the bloggers said in a statement. “We have enough technical means to force Ukraine to surrender.”

While the accuracy of the statement cannot be verified, it appears to reflect the same harsh approach that Surovikin took in Syria, where he oversaw the destruction of entire cities to repel insurgent resistance without paying too much attention to the civilian population. This indiscriminate bombing drew condemnation from international human rights groups, and some media reports called it “General Armageddon”.

In 2017, Putin awarded Surovikin the country’s highest award, the Hero of Russia medal, promoting him to full general.

Kremlin hawks praised Surovikin’s appointment in Ukraine. Millionaire businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of a prominent military contractor who played a key role in the conflict in Ukraine, and who was called “Putin’s chief”, praised him as “the best commander of the Russian army”.

However, while the hardliners expected Surovikin to increase the attacks against Ukraine, his first statements after his appointment were more like a recognition of the weak points of the Russian army than arrogant threats.

In an interview with Russian state television, Surovikin admitted that Russian forces in southern Ukraine are in a “fairly difficult position” in the face of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

In carefully-written comments that Surovikin appears to have read from a teleprompter, he said further action in the region would depend on the evolving war situation. Observers interpreted his statement as an attempt to prepare the public for a possible Russian withdrawal from the strategic southern city of Kherson in southern Ukraine.

Surovikin began his military career in the Soviet army in the 1980s, and as a junior lieutenant he was named infantry platoon commander. When he was later promoted to air force commander, he received a mixed reaction in the ranks, as it was the first time an infantry officer had been given the post.

In 1991 he found himself in the middle of a political storm.

Surovikin commanded one of the mechanized infantry battalions that had arrived in the capital when the Communist Party’s old guards staged a hard blow in August of that year, briefly overthrowing Gorbachev and sending troops to Moscow to declare a state of emergency.

Popular resistance escalated, and in the final hours of the three-day coup, protesters blocked an armored convoy led by Surovikin and tried to set some vehicles on fire. In a chaotic melee, two protesters were shot and the third was crushed to death by an armored vehicle.

The coup collapsed later that day, and Surovikin was quickly arrested. He spent seven months behind bars for an investigation, but was eventually acquitted and even promoted to major because investigators concluded that he was simply doing their job.

Another shocking moment in his career came in 1995, when Surovikin was convicted of illegal possession and trafficking of firearms while studying at a military academy. He was sentenced to a year in prison, but the conviction was quickly undone.

He rose steadily through the ranks, commanding troops stationed in the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan, serving at the head of troops sent to Chechnya and other posts in Russia.

He was appointed commander of Russian forces in Syria in 2017 and took a second post there in 2019 as Moscow sought to support the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and help it regain ground amid a devastating civil war.

In its 2020 report, Human Rights Watch noted that Surovikin, as well as Putin, Assad and other figures, assumed command responsibility for violations during the 2019-20 Syrian offensive in Idlib province.

According to the Russian media, he apparently has a temper that does not endear him to his subordinates. An officer under Surovikin complained to prosecutors that the general had beaten him after he was angered by how he had voted in the parliamentary elections; Another subordinate reportedly shot himself. Investigators found nothing wrong in either case.

His record in Syria could have been a factor behind his appointment in Ukraine, as Putin moved to escalate the stakes and reverse a series of humiliating defeats.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has repeatedly called for increased strikes in Ukraine, praised Surovikin as “a true general and warrior, well-experienced, farsighted and strong, who values ​​patriotism, honor and dignity above all else.”

“The combined forces group is now in safe hands,” said Kadyrov, who is backed by the Kremlin, and expressed confidence that it will “improve the situation”.


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