The ruthless face of the Russian campaign in Ukraine

The ruthless face of the Russian campaign in Ukraine

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With his shaved head and uncompromising scowl, General Sergei Surovikin has become the face of Russia’s “military special operation” in Ukraine in just a few days.

A veteran of the Moscow Wars since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Surovikin has a ruthless reputation and is the man behind the massive bombing campaign in Ukraine.

Dubbed “General Armageddon” in Western media, the 56-year-old was appointed commander of Russian forces in Ukraine on October 8.

His job is to turn the tide after a series of battlefield defeats that have forced Russian forces to retreat on multiple fronts.

He appeared on Russian state television on Tuesday while the army remained silent about their backlash on the ground.

Dressed in military uniform and surrounded by Russian flags, Surovikin said of operations in Ukraine that the “situation was tense.”

“We will not rule out the most difficult decisions,” he said.

– ‘Ruthless Commander’ –

Born in Siberia, Surovikin fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s, after which he was involved in the 1991 hardliner coup that heralded the collapse of the Soviet Union.

He continued to fight in the second Chechen war in the 2000s and in the Syrian campaign of 2015.

“He’s very well known. The military talks a lot about him. He has a reputation for being a mad, traumatized, ruthless commander,” a Russian military expert told AFP on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

President Vladimir “Putin adores him. In Syria, he ousted officers from the general staff to direct attacks,” he said.

Vasily Kashin, an expert on geopolitics at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, said he had “management and strategic qualities.”

“It is clear that Russian leaders see Surovikin as the commander best placed to direct such a large military effort,” he said.

Independent analyst Alexander Khramchikhin noted that Surovikin had previously directed Russian forces in southern Ukraine, saying they were the ones “most successful”.

“That is the only requirement in the current situation,” he said.

The change in strategy is already noticeable.

Two days after Surovikin’s appointment, the Russian army unleashed a wave of drone and missile attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure targets, causing power outages and water shortages in several cities.

The bombings have continued, promising a harsh winter, with Ukrainian officials urging people to limit their electricity use.

– imprisonment –

Before Ukraine, Surovikin was one of the commanders of Russian forces in Syria.

Human Rights Watch said in 2020 he was among Russian officers “who may have command responsibility” for violations, including attacks on schools and hospitals.

In Russia he is best known for his role in the failed coup in 1991.

He was jailed after troops under his command killed three pro-democracy protesters, but was released a few months later.

“The second time he was imprisoned for illegal arms trafficking was in the late 1990s, but the sentence was suspended on appeal,” said the expert, who asked not to be identified.

Surovikin’s reputation has earned the respect of those seeking a tougher line in Ukraine.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who is critical of the Russian military, said he was “100 percent satisfied” with the appointment.

Russian opposition figure Leonid Volkov accused Surovikin of being a “legendary thief” who got rich from illegal logging.

“He’s a businessman, not a general,” he wrote on Twitter.

Surovikin will be judged for his ability to reverse Russia’s fate in Ukraine and deal with the problems and mistakes that have piled up since the attack began in February.

Given recent Ukrainian advances on the southern front, he faces a particularly difficult challenge in the coming days – surrender the occupied city of Kherson, or stay and fight.

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