As Ukraine saw fresh missile strikes ‘in civilian areas’ on Monday morning, all eyes were on Russia’s newly-appointed war leader, nicknamed ‘General Armageddon’ Sergei Surovikin.
President Vladimir Putin recently appointed General Sergey Surovikin to lead the war effort in Ukraine, following a series of military setbacks and growing dissatisfaction in Russia over its neighbor’s invasion. The appointment on Saturday followed the dismissal of two Russian senior military commanders as Kyiv reclaimed territory lost to Russia in Ukraine’s northeast and south. It also comes after the partial destruction of the Kerch Bridge, a vital link between Russia and Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
The general has a reputation of being ‘ruthless’. But who is he?
‘Deadly Syrian Playbook’
The general was born in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk in 1966. He was recently named commander of Russia’s southern military grouping in its conflict with Ukraine. Surovikin was named a Hero of Russia and given a medal for his service in Syria in 2017, where he led the Russian military expedition as commander of the Aerospace Forces.
The general was accused of ordering a brutal bombardment that destroyed much of Aleppo, Syria, where Russia intervened on Bashar’s side. Human Rights Watch named him as one of the commanders “who may bear command responsibility for violations” during the 2019-2020 offensive in Syria’s Idlib province in an October 2020 report.
The report further said his operations included dozens of air and ground attacks on civilian objects and infrastructure, including “homes, schools, healthcare facilities, and markets – the places where people live, work, and study.”
A report by the Guardian the recent strikes in Ukraine were a page out of the General’s ‘Syrian playbook’, with a barrage of rocket attacks on civilian targets across the nation, including a major road junction near a university and a park’s children’s playground.
Colonel Under Him ‘Died by Suicide’
According to a report (PDF) by the Jamestown Foundation, a US defence policy think tank, he is known in the Russian military for being completely “ruthless.”
“I am not surprised to see what happened this morning in Kyiv. Surovikin is absolutely ruthless, with little regard for human life. I am afraid his hands will be completely covered in Ukrainian blood,” the Guardian quoted a former defence ministry official who has worked with Surovikin, as saying.
Surovikin rose to prominence during the 1991 coup attempt launched by Soviet hardliners, when he led a rifle division that drove through pro-democracy protesters’ barricades. In the clash, three men were killed, one of whom was crushed. In 2004, Russian media reported that a colonel serving under him had died by suicide after receiving a harsh reprimand from Surovikin.
For his hardline and unconventional approach to war, his colleagues have dubbed him “General Armageddon,” the Guardian reported.
What Challenges Does He Face?
Russia has been reshuffling its forces in Ukraine in an attempt to stem the losses caused by a ferocious Ukrainian counteroffensive. Some observers believe Surovikin’s appointment indicates that Russia will focus its military efforts in one area.
In early September, a Ukrainian counteroffensive drove Russian forces out of much of the northeastern Kharkiv region, allowing Kyiv to retake thousands of square kilometres of territory. Russian troops also lost territory in Kherson’s southern region and the Lyman transport hub in eastern Ukraine, Al Jazeera reported.