The new Russian operations commander in Ukraine has lost his teeth in Syria

Army General Alexander Dvornikov, the man chosen to lead the next phase of the Moscow War in Ukraine, wrote in a 2018 military journal that in modern warfare “the main task is not the annihilation of the enemy, but the complete subordination of the enemy.” the latter under his will”.

Architect of Russia’s military intervention in Syria, where Russian airstrikes have targeted civilian targets, including hospitals, General Dvornikov has led troops in Ukraine since the invasion began in February, when they advanced from northern Crimea and entered a strip of territory in the South of Crimea conquered land.

He will now become supreme commander of Russia’s operations, Western officials say, while Moscow refocuses on the south and Donbass, eastern Ukraine, after failing to take the capital Kyiv and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city (Northeast), due to fierce resistance which inflicted heavy casualties on his troops.

Military analysts attribute the offensive’s failure in part to its fragmented command structure, which led to poor coordination. Russia has now moved its forces east and united them under the command of General Dvornikov. According to Western officials, its aims are now focused on seizing areas in the Donbass region that it does not yet control.

Moscow has not officially communicated his new role. The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, did not respond to a request for a response.

Military analysts believe General Dvornikov, 60, is a logical choice to lead the new phase of the Russian campaign. Aside from being the senior officer and, according to military analysts, being considered a possible successor to Chief of General Staff Valeri Guerassimov, since 2016 he has headed the Southern Military District in charge of Russia’s operations in Donbass. In 2014, Moscow fomented a rebellion there — a claim the Kremlin denies — a conflict that dragged on for eight years before Russia launched a full-scale invasion in February.

“Dvornikov is the one who knows the geography and location best,” says Pavel Luzin, an independent Russian military analyst.

According to Luzin, the Kremlin may also see him as best suited to solving the problems of the offensive in coordinating forces. During military exercises in 2020, General Dvornikov oversaw Russia’s first widely publicized use of automated systems to bring different sections of the military together, Luzin said.

“Modern military art and the experience of conducting combat operations in local conflicts over the past quarter century show that the formation and use of integrated groupings is becoming increasingly important.”

In his 2018 article, published in The military-industrial courierGeneral Dvornikov advocated the use of coordinated operations – exactly what Russia did not do.

“Modern military art and the experience of conducting combat operations in local conflicts over the past quarter century show that the formation and use of integrated factions is becoming increasingly important,” he wrote at the time.

Born in Ussuriysk, a city about 55 kilometers from the Russian-Chinese border and the Pacific coast, General Dvornikov graduated from the Suvorov Military School, a local military boarding school for boys. He then moved to the capital to attend university, where he graduated from the Moscow Higher Military Command School in 1982.

The general’s career is similar to that of all current Russian military commanders. He began to rise through the ranks in the 1980s and held managerial positions over the next decade. In the 1990s he led a motorized rifle division in Germany before Russia withdrew its forces from the country in 1994. From 2000 to 2003 he gained combat experience as a motorized rifle division commander during the Second Chechen War.

“He belongs to the group of Soviet-trained generals who built their careers during Putin’s 20-year tenure,” says Luzin. They know how to proceed on the battlefield, but they also know the bureaucratic rules of the game. Their intellectual abilities should not be overstated as they operate under an authoritarian system. Even the Soviet Union gave officers more freedom and autonomy on the battlefield. »

General Dvornikov rose in the hierarchy before being sent to Syria in 2015, when Moscow intervened in the war alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and helped him quell the armed rebellion.

The general was promoted to head of the Southern Military District the following year, at the height of the Battle of Aleppo, a turning point in the war that saw Russian and Syrian regime forces recapture one of the country’s largest cities. Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded him the Hero of Russia medal earlier this year.

“He had a lot of experience in configuring the Russian command structure and crucially he was the one who commanded the start of the siege of Aleppo, where very intense urban fighting was taking place and where the Russian army was refining its approach,” says Mason Clark, a Russia specialist Analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, an independent research organization.

“The main problem of the Russian Armed Forces has always been effective management. In this war it was the same as in the recent conflicts and in the Soviet campaigns. This problem needs to be solved.”

The military strategy implemented by General Dvornikov included bombings of hospitals, schools and bakeries, attacks on fleeing civilians and siege operations aimed at emptying the territory of populations and psychologically exhausting the armed forces, opponents and their supporters, according to sources familiar with the russian military know . They say Russia is now using similar tactics, bombing cities and attacking civilians to force them to surrender, making it easier for Russian forces to enter cities.

The siege of Mariupol has been compared to that of Aleppo, where Russian and Syrian forces surrounded 300,000 civilians for five months. In Mariupol, residents have been without running water, electricity and an adequate supply of food for weeks. Russian troops hit a hospital, apartment buildings and a theater where more than 1,000 civilians had taken refuge.

According to the World Health Organization, Russian forces have conducted more than 70 confirmed operations against health facilities in Ukraine since the invasion began. In Syria, 930 health workers have been killed in a decade of war, with the Syrian regime and Russia responsible for 91% of those deaths, according to Physicians for Human Rights, an NGO that tracks attacks on health services.

“The practice is to bomb hospitals so people don’t have access to medical care and move. The goal, therefore, is to deprive and shrink these communities,” explains Zaher Sahloul, a Syrian-American doctor who has worked in medical aid in Syria and recently returned from an aid mission in Syrian Ukraine.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a much larger and more costly operation than its intervention in Syria. According to estimates by Western secret services, Russia mobilized 150,000 soldiers for its comprehensive attack on Europe’s largest state in terms of area. The much more modest intervention in Syria relied primarily on air forces to support Syrian government forces and their allies on the ground.

General Dvornikov also faces a centuries-old problem for the Russian military, says Mr Luzin, the independent Russian analyst.

“The main problem of the Russian Armed Forces has always been effective management. In this war it was the same as in the recent conflicts and in the Soviet campaigns, summarizes Mr. Luzin. It is imperative that this issue be resolved. »

(Translated from the original English version by Paul Julhiet)

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