There is a new general in charge of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s devastating war against Ukraine, and he has a long record of brutality.
After Ukraine made several gains in its counteroffensive in recent weeks, the Russian Defense Ministry named Sergey Surovikin as the new overall commander of operations in the war.
In the past, Surovikin had played a critical role in Russia’s operations in Syria as Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces. During these operations, Russian warplanes caused widespread devastation in the rebel-held area.
CNN spoke with a former Russian air force lieutenant, Gleb Irisov, who served under him in Syria.
Irisov said that Surovikin was “very close to the Putin regime” and “never had any political ambitions, so he always executed his plans exactly as the government wanted.”
Analysts say that while Surovikin’s appointment is unlikely to change the way Russian forces are conducting the war, his appointment speaks to Putin’s dissatisfaction with previous commanders in charge of operations. The intention is also likely to placate the nationalist and pro-war base within Russia itself, according to Mason Clark, a Russia expert at the Institute for the Study of War think tank.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has called on Russia to “take more drastic measures” including the use of “low-yield nuclear weapons” in Ukraine after recent setbacks, welcomed Surovikin’s appointment.
The praise for Kadyrov, who is a key Putin ally, is significant, perhaps, since he himself is known for crushing all forms of dissent.
“They hated him”: As a former subordinate of the commander in Syria, Irisov said he saw Surovikin several times during some missions and spoke with high-ranking officers who reported to him.
“He made a lot of people very angry, they hated him,” Irisov said, describing how the “strict” and “straight” general was disliked at headquarters because of the way he tried to implement his infantry experience into the force. aerial.
Just two days after Surovikin’s appointment last Saturday, Russia launched its biggest bombing raid on Ukraine since the first days of the war.
Surovikin is “more familiar with cruise missiles, perhaps he used his connections and experience to organize this chain of devastating attacks,” Irisov said, referencing reports that cruise missiles have been among weapons deployed by Russia.
But Clark, of the Study of War think tank, suggests the general’s promotion is “rather a framework to inject new blood into the Russian command system” and “put on this tough nationalist face.”