‘Butcher of Syria’: Putin Picks Gen Dvornikov To Lead Russian Troops in Ukraine

Dvornikov has been supervising Russians troops in eastern Ukraine, and his tactics could crush Ukrainian resistance.

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Edited By :Ahamad Fuwad

The war in Ukraine has not exactly been going according to plan for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Seven weeks into the invasion, as reports emerge of Russian troops completely withdrawing from Kyiv in order to shift their focus to the eastern and the southern parts of Ukraine, Putin has appointed General Alexander Dvornikov to lead Russia's military campaign.

He has replaced Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, who has rarely made a public appearance.

So, who is General Dvornikov? What does he bring to the war? And what about his prior military experience?


Early Years

Known for being "old school" and a hardcore nationalist, 60-year-old Aleksander Dvornikov started as a platoon commander for the Red Army in 1982.

He graduated from the Ussuriysk Suvorov Military School in 1978, and also studied at Moscow High Command Training School for four years.

After serving as a platoon commander and a battalion chief of staff, he graduated from the Frunze Military Academy (which was later merged with the Malinovsky Military Armored Forces Academy to create the Combined Arms Academy).

He also fought during the Second Chechen War (1999-2000).


'Butcher of Syria'

Dvornikov was sent to Syria by Putin in September 2015.

He was told that his mission was to secure the position of the Syrian regime led by Bashar al-Assad.

Intel from both Russia and Iran (Syria's two most important allies throughout the civil war) assessed that the Assad government was days away from falling to the rebels.

To kickstart his mission in Syria, Dvornikov set up an airbase near the northwest coast, from where a province known as Idlib was targeted with bombs.

Under his command, the Russian and the Syrian troops won control of the skies over Idlib, and in the process, completely demolished the city and displacing thousands.

Aleppo was also pounded by Russian airstrikes. Nothing was spared. Hospitals and schools among other civilian infrastructures were targeted.

Eventually, in December 2016, Assad recaptured the rebel strongholds of the city, a turning point of the civil war. The man behind the Russian command that aided Assad's military was General Dvornikov.

Dvornikov, in the past, has also reportedly worked with the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organisation, also described as a private military company hiring mercenaries.

The group has been active in Syria since 2015 and is known to be operating in Ukraine.

Fadel Abdul Ghany, executive director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says that Dvornikov, in all likelihood, in order to crush the Syrian rebels, coordinated between Russian fighter pilots in the sky and Wagner's ground fighters, reported the Washington Post.

The campaign in Syria led by Dvornikov was viewed by Putin as a success, given that the former was awarded the title "Hero of the Russian Federation" (one of the nation's highest awards) for leading the military intervention.

After all, Russia hardly lost any troops or aircrafts during their assault on Syrian cities that saved Assad from losing the war.

Additionally, Dvornikov oversaw the Russian campaign against the Islamic State in eastern Syria.


Why Appoint Dvornikov

Most analysts agree that there are two main reasons for the new appointment:

  • Dvornikov has anyway been supervising Russian troops in southern and eastern Ukraine

  • His tactics could crush Ukrainian resistance, leading to a quicker capitulation

Regarding the first point, a study by the Institute for the Study of War concluded that "the designation of Dvornikov as the overall commander makes sense now given that the announced Russian main efforts are almost all in his area of responsibility".

With respect to his tactics, retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC News that Dvornikov "is the goon called in by Vladimir Putin to flatten cities like Aleppo in Syria".

"He has used tools of terrorism throughout that period, including working with the Syrian forces, torture centers, systematic rape, nerve agents. He is the worst for the worst," Admiral Stavridis added.

The White House perspective on this is that Russia's strategic failures in Ukraine may have led to this appointment, but atrocities on civilians will spike under Dvornikov's command.

"No appointment of any general can erase the fact that Russia has already faced a strategic failure in Ukraine," White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN.

"This particular general has a résumé that includes brutality against civilians in other theatres in Syria. And we can expect more of the same in this theatre," he added.

(With inputs from CNN, NBC, Washington Post and The Guardian)

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