British intelligence officials have confirmed reports that the so-called butcher of Syria has been put in charge of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
General Aleksandr Dvornikov, 60, has been responsible for brutal military operations in Chechnya, Syria and Ukraine itself.
As one of Vladimir Putin’s most trusted allies, he was awarded the highest Hero of the Russian Federation award by the Russian President in March 2016.
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As he did in Syria in 2015, Mr Putin has turned to General Dvornikov in recent weeks in a desperate effort to regain dominance in Ukraine as it became clear the Russian advance had stalled. .
The UK Ministry of Defense describes his appointment as an “attempt to centralize command and control”.
After Russian troops suffered huge casualties and were forced to abandon any attempt to capture kyiv, the president hopes his commander will do better in his new focus on the Donbass region.
Here, Sky News examines General Dvornikov’s reputation and what his appointment means for the next phase of the Ukraine conflict.
Soviet Army of 17
Born in the far east of Russia near the border with China, Aleksandr Dvornikov graduated from his local military training school in Ussuriysk in 1978 at the age of 17.
After joining the Soviet Army as a teenager, he underwent further training at the Moscow High Command Training School and became a platoon commander in 1982.
In his early years he served in the Far East Military District, gaining roles as company commander and battalion chief of staff, before moving to East Germany to serve there. the position of Deputy Battalion Commander.
By the end of the 1990s, he had been awarded an “Order of Military Merit” and the “Order of Courage”.
In 1997 he was appointed commander of the Motor Rifle Division which in 1999 stormed Grozny, the capital of the self-declared independent Russian province of Chechnya, during the Second Chechen War.
Gen Dvornikov’s reputation as a “butcher” dates from his time there.
In Grozny, he reportedly ordered infantry troops to fire on everyone – civilians and military – while using illegal cluster bombs and cruise missiles to effectively level the city.
It finally fell on February 6, 2000, which helped Putin, acting president at the time, skyrocket in the polls and become Russia’s leader for good a month later.
“Worst of the Worst”
After stints in various parts of Russia, including Siberia, General Dvornikov continued to rise through the ranks, becoming a lieutenant general in late 2012 and a colonel general two years later.
When, in 2015, the Russian-backed Syrian government forces were on the verge of losing the civil war, Mr. Putin put General Dvornikov in charge of the Russian forces.
He focused on the opposition stronghold of Aleppo in a battle that ultimately resulted in the deaths of around 50,000 Syrians.
In an article in a Russian military journal in 2018, General Dvornikov described the employment of “constant fire…day and night…without interruption”.
Retired US Navy Admiral James Stavridis described him as the “worst of the worst”, using chemical weapons such as sarin to choke civilians to death and relentless airstrikes to destroy homes and hospitals.
“He’s the moron called in by Vladimir Putin to raze cities like Aleppo in Syria,” he told NBC News.
“He has used tools of terrorism throughout this period, including working with Syrian forces, torture centers, systematic rape, nerve agents. He is the worst of the worst.”
In October 2016, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, said Aleppo had become a “slaughterhouse” and “a horrible place of pain and fear, where bodies lifeless young children are trapped under streets of rubble and pregnant women”. deliberately bombarded women”.
As head of the Russian army in Syria, General Dvornikov used similar tactics in Holms, where tens of thousands more were killed and buildings flattened.
By mid-2015, they meant the Russians could ensure President Bashar al-Assad regained control.
General Dvornikov wrote in 2018: “By the summer of 2015, the Syrian Armed Forces were completely exhausted, the personnel was demoralized, the officer corps was deteriorating and the leadership of the Armed Forces showed extremely low efficiency in controlling of command.
Chief of Operations in Crimea and Donbass
Although he has only just been charged with the war in Ukraine as a whole, General Dvornikov has been involved in the region since 2016.
Two years after the Russians invaded Crimea in 2014, Mr Putin appointed him commander of his southern military district.
In that role, he oversaw the Russian-backed separatist war against Ukrainians in Crimea and the Donbass region, which collectively left around 13,000 dead.
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He orchestrated the 2019 operation to block and seize three Ukrainian navy ships and 24 sailors on board in the Sea of Azov around Crimea.
The sailors were held hostage in Russia for about 10 months, prompting the EU to sanction the general and many of his colleagues that year.
He also commandeered the reinforcement of Russian military forces around the Ukrainian border in 2021, which served as the first indication that the Kremlin was planning to go to war.
What does Dvornikov mean for the war?
The Defense Ministry says the Kremlin’s decision to promote General Dvornikov is the result of its “inability to ensure consistency and coordination of military activity”, which has “hindered the invasion of Russia to date “.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was forced to admit “significant troop losses”, which last week forced Russia to withdraw completely from the north of the country.
Before Moscow gave up trying to capture kyiv, Russian troops were organized into three separate groups focusing on northern, southern and eastern Ukraine.
That meant there were “essentially three competing field commanders,” Mark Galeotti, senior associate fellow at defense think tank RUSI and author of We Need To Talk About Putin, told NBC News.
“General Dvornikov’s promotion is part of a larger overhaul in which Russia will stop trying to fight on three fronts and instead focus on ‘another offensive to try to take the rest of Donbass,'” he said. he declared, describing it as a “more sensible and achievable goal”.
Gen Dvornikov is not an “accidental choice”, Viktorija Starych-Samuoliene, co-founder of the Council on Geostrategy, told Sky News.
“In Russia, he is well known for being one of the main candidates to become the next Chief of Staff.”
Its tactics in Syria, which were intended to “intimidate the population”, are now taking place in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, she added.
“General Dvornikov’s appointment is important primarily in two respects,” she said.
“Firstly, it indicates a new phase of the war in Ukraine with the primary goal of effectively and successfully taking and retaining those parts of the Ukrainian region of Donbass still under Ukrainian control at all costs.
“Second, because of his horrific ‘record’ in Syria, it potentially signals even more brutality against civilians, critical infrastructure, and disregard for the laws of war.”