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Ukraine: Sergei Surokivin, the sulphurous new commander of the Russian invasion

Tempers are seriously beginning to warm up among the Russian elites. While the Kremlin army has been facing numerous setbacks on the front for several weeks (it notably had to withdraw from the Kharkiv region in the northeast and retreat into that of Kherson), jostled by the counter-offensive of the Ukrainian fighters and strong on Western arms supplies, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov lambasted the military command, while senior parliamentary official Andrei Kartapolov publicly called on the military to “stop lying” about its defeats.

The explosion of the Crimean bridge, Saturday, October 8, came to deliver a new brutal blow to the Russian forces. The collapse of this building dear to Putin, built to celebrate the annexation of the peninsula in 2014, will make it more difficult to supply the peninsula and the forces there. As a sign of dissatisfaction in high places with the conduct of operations, the Russian Ministry of Defense immediately and publicly announced – a rare occurrence – on Telegram that it had appointed a new man to head its “special military operation” in Ukraine: the General Sergei Surovikin, 55 years old. The latter had until now led the “South” group of forces in Ukraine, according to a report by the Russian ministry dating from July.


The name of Surokivin’s predecessor has never been officially revealed, although according to Russian media it was General Alexander Dvornikov, a veteran of the second Chechen war and commander of Russian forces in Syria from 2015 to 2016. The timing of Surokivin’s appointment is no coincidence. In addition to the symbol represented by the destruction of the Crimean bridge, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has been in Vladimir Putin’s crosshairs for some time.

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The head of the Kremlin, who is looking for culprits in his military disappointments in order to preserve himself, has in fact recently lectured the Ministry of Defense, explaining that he had “not modified in good time the legal framework for persons who cannot be mobilized” , on the occasion of the signing of a decree granting suspensions of mobilization to students (Vladimir Putin decreed at the end of September the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of reservists and the annexation of four Ukrainian regions although Moscow only partially controls them ). “This criticism is an implicit criticism of Defense Minister Shoigu, whom Putin seems to want to blame for the failures of the invasion”, confirms in a note the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.

sulphurous past

To calm the ardor of Vladimir Putin, the Ministry of Defense therefore appointed, as head of operations, a veteran commander, who led the Russian military expedition to Syria in 2017. He was accused there of using tactics “controversial”, including indiscriminate bombings against anti-government fighters. Like his predecessor, Sergei Surovikin is also a veteran of the second Chechen war in the 2000s and, before that, of the civil war in Tajikistan in the 1990s. hectic: he has two stints in prison for allegedly selling arms and for leading a military column against demonstrators during the Moscow putsch, a 1991 coup.

“It is highly symbolic that Sergei Surovikin, the only officer who ordered the shooting of revolutionaries in August 1991 and who actually killed three people, is now in charge of this last effort to restore the Soviet Union,” tweeted, Saturday, Grigory Yudin, Russian political scientist and sociologist. “For more than 30 years, Surovikin’s career has been marred by allegations of corruption and brutality,” British intelligence officials wrote in a recent report on Surovikin’s likely promotion, report it Guardian.

Evgeny Prigozhin, founder of the private military company Wagner, whose mercenaries are suspected of having participated in the Boutcha massacre, did not fail to welcome the appointment of the new general. “Surovikin is the most capable commander in the Russian military,” he said in a statement released by Concord, a company with which he is associated. He is a “legendary figure, he was born to faithfully serve his country”.


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