There is a new leader in charge of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s devastating war against Ukraine, which has a reputation for brutality.
After Ukraine made gains in its counteroffensive in recent weeks, Russia’s Defense Ministry appointed Sergey Surovikin as its new overall commander for war operations.
Notably, he previously played an important role in Russia’s operations in Syria as the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces. During these operations, Russian warplanes wreaked havoc in the rebel-held area.
CNN spoke with a former Russian air force lieutenant, Gleb Irisov, who served under him in Syria.
He said Surovikin was “very close to Putin’s regime” and “never had any political ambitions, so he always executed a plan as the government wanted.”
Analysts say Surovikin’s appointment, which is unlikely to change how Russian forces conduct the war, speaks to Putin’s dissatisfaction with previous commando operations. In part, it’s likely to appeal to a nationalist, pro-war base within Russia, 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 tougher measures”, including the use of “low-yield nuclear weapons” in Ukraine, after recent setbacks, welcomed Surovikin’s appointment.
The praise of Kadyrov, a key ally of Putin, is perhaps significant, as he is known for cracking down on all forms of dissent.
“They hated it”: Irisov in Syria once subordinate to the commander he said that he had seen Surovikin several times during some missions and had spoken with senior officers under him.
“He made a lot of people very angry; they hated him,” Irisov said, describing him as a “fair” and “correct” general at headquarters because of the way he tried to implement his infantry experience in the air force.
Just two days after Surovikin’s appointment last Saturday, Russia carried out its heaviest bombing campaign against Ukraine since the beginning of the war.
Surovikin “knows about cruise missiles, perhaps he used his connections and experience to organize this chain of devastating attacks,” Irisov said, referring to reports that cruise missiles have been among the weapons deployed by Russia.
But Clarke, of the Study of War think tank, suggests the general’s promotion is “one more thing to inject new blood into the Russian command system” and “put on this tough nationalist face”.
You can read Sarah Dean’s full report here.