Meet Russia’s new Ukraine war commander
Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine is now being led by a ruthless commander known by his troops as “General Armageddon.”
The Kremlin appointed Jan. Sergey Surovikin, 56, as overall commander of Russia’s joint group of forces in its so-called “special military operation” on Saturday.
Just two days later, more than 80 long-range missiles rained down across Ukraine — including one just feet from a kids’ playground — in the most dramatic escalation since the invasion nearly eight months ago.
“I am not surprised to see what happened… Surovikin is absolutely ruthless, with little regard for human life,” a former defense ministry official who has worked with Surovikin told the Guardian.
“I am afraid his hands will be completely covered in Ukrainian blood.”
Surovikin gained his ominous “General Armageddon” nickname while leading Russian forces in Syria — where he was accused of overseeing a brutal bombardment that destroyed much of the city of Aleppo.
“This is a man who regards terror as a legitimate, maybe even inevitable part of war,” historian Mark Galeotti wrote in The Spectator.
Human Rights Watch highlighted him as one of the commanders who “knew or should have known about the abuses” in Syria “and took no effective steps to stop them or punish those directly responsible.”
That 2020 report said Russian forces under his command struck Syrian “homes, schools, healthcare facilities, and markets – the places where people live, work, and study.”
“Surovikin’s command was clinical, brutal, and most of all, ferociously calculated,” Charles Lister, director of the Syria program at the US-based Middle East Institute, told Radio Free Europe (RFE).
The Kremlin instead awarded Surovikin the Hero of Russia medal — the country’s highest military honor — for his Syrian leadership. It continued promoting him to his current prime position leading the joint forces.
“For Ukraine, I’d worry a lot about Surovikin’s absolutely unforgiving attitude to the enemy — seen as combatants and civilians alike — and his laser-like focus on achieving military progress no matter the cost or risk.
“Ultimately, civilians are likely to suffer the most.”
In fact, Surovikin’s four-decade-long rise through the ranks came even though he faced legal trouble, both for his brutality and also corruption and arms dealing.
In 1991, at just 24, he spent a few months in jail after three protesters were killed when his unit’s armored vehicle ran over them during the coup d’état attempt launched by Soviet hardliners, RFE said.
At the time, he was accused of having personally shot one of the three protesters. However, he was later cleared and freed, reportedly on orders from then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
In 2004, Surovikin was investigated — but ultimately cleared — after one of his troops killed himself after a ferocious reprimand.
“Officers of a good commander do not shoot themselves in the office with service weapons,” one officer previously told RFE.
Surovikin was also convicted of three charges tied to arms trafficking and illegal weapons sales, getting a year’s probation, RFE said. He later insisted he had been cleared and received an apology.
“He has had a career that’s been blighted by accusations of both corruption and brutality,” said Sidharth Kaushal, a research fellow at military think tank the Royal United Services Institute.
“So that may be some insight into how he will approach” his leadership of the war on Ukraine, he said.
“But then again, the Russian approach has already been quite brutal.”
Galeotti, the historian, said in his Spectator column that it is “doubtful” Surovikin “can change the underlying dynamic of the war.”
“Nonetheless, he will presumably be expected to try and that is likely to mean many more air raid sirens in towns and cities across Ukraine.”
His appointment — and the immediate escalation in deadly air attacks — is being hailed by some of the most bloodthirsty factions in the Kremlin and its loyal allies.
“I welcome this appointment with pleasure and I am glad,” Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov wrote on his Telegram channel, days after griping about failings by his closest allies.
“The joint group of troops is now in safe hands… Now, I am 100% satisfied with the operation,” he wrote.
With Post wires