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Alexander Dvornikov, the “Butcher of Syria” in command of Russian forces in Ukraine

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Russian General Alexander Dvornikov became the first leader of all armed forces deployed to Ukraine on Sunday. This appointment of a soldier known to have led Russia’s strategy of intensive bombing campaigns in Syria raises fears of an intensification of abuses against civilians.

From the outskirts of Grozny in Chechnya to the heart of Aleppo in Syria, he has a sulphurous reputation as a soldier who will do anything to achieve his goals. Some, like US general and former CIA chief David Petraeus, even nicknamed him the “butcher of Syria” for his leadership role during the Russian military campaign in Syria. From now on, General Alexander Dvornikov will deal with the war in Ukraine.

Highly respected by Vladimir Putin and equally feared by his enemies, this soldier was appointed on Sunday, April 10, to coordinate operations in Ukraine. This duty was not officially announced by Moscow, but was confirmed to various Anglo-Saxon media outlets by US military sources.

The man of difficult situations

This marks the first time since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 that the entire armed forces have been led by a single commander, the Washington Post notes. Previously there was a general for each front (north, south and east), emphasizes the Institute for the Study of Waran influential US military analysis blog.

This reorganization should make it possible to “solve the communication problems between the troops, which were one of the weak points of the Russian military operation in Ukraine”, according to the specialists of the Institute for War Study.

Alexander Dvornikov’s choice to take over the operations in the field is purely geographically justifiable. In fact, this general controls the southern district of the Russian army, on which the Crimea and especially the Donbass depend, among others.

Precisely, after failing to take the capital Kiev, the Russian forces withdrew to focus on the new priority of the Russian General Staff: the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics in the Donbass, whose independence had been recognized by Moscow three days before the invasion of Ukraine.

Alexander Dvornikov is therefore supposed to know the ground like no other. But this 60-year-old general also enjoys a reputation as a man for difficult situations and a “true heavyweight in the army,” underlines Mark Galeotti, a specialist in Russian military issues. interviewed by the Washington Post

A reputation built during the war in Syria. Previously, Alexander Dvornikov had pursued a serious military career, but without particular feats of arms. He attended “all good training schools and was assigned to both infantry divisions and the air force”, reminds the Guardian

Everything changes in 2015, when Alexander Dvornikov becomes the first head of the Russian Combined Forces in Syria. At the time, the power of Bashar al-Assad, one of Vladimir Putin’s main allies in the region, seemed to waver under the combined blows of the opposition and the jihadists of the Islamic State Organization, and the opposition to existing power. †

It was Alexander Dvornikov who conceived and then applied the strategy of intensive bombing of several Syrian cities. An approach that, under the guise of targeting Islamist fighters, also weakens the position of the anti-Assad rebels.

An intensification of indiscriminate bombing?

This strategy, which involved the construction of an ex nihilo air base in Hmeimim, in the west of the country, proves to Moscow that “Alexander Dvornikov knows how to adapt to new situations,” emphasizes Mark Galeotti.

It does so without paying too much attention to the civilian population. The Russian Air Force does not hesitate to repeatedly bomb buildings such as hospitals or schools, creating a climate of terror in the targeted Syrian cities. At the very least, these indiscriminate attacks earned him a reputation as a soldier who will stop at nothing to achieve his goal, The Guardian points out.

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This is also where he got the nickname “Butcher of Syria”. This instrumentalization of civilian life does not seem to bother Vladimir Putin. On the contrary, the Russian president recalled his general from Syria in March 2016 to offer him the southern district of the Russian army – one of the most important in the country, especially in charge of Crimea, Ukraine and Chechnya – and give him the Hero of the Russian Federation Medal, one of the most prestigious.

He is the brute who calls Vladimir Putin when he wants to destroy a city like Aleppo. He’s one of the worst in the Russian army,” said James Stavridis, a former US admiral. interviewed by NBC

For this retired soldier, the appointment of Alexander Dvornikov at the head of all armed forces deployed in Ukraine suggests that other atrocities against civilians are to be expected. So he would have the same road map as in Syria: to use all possible means to turn around a difficult military situation.

“Alexander Dvornikov’s resume — including brutality against civilians — makes me think we should expect more abuse in Ukraine,” Jake Sullivan, the United States’ national security adviser, said during an interview assigned to the “Face the nation”. ‘ from CBS.

Mainly because the Kremlin wants results quickly. Vladimir Putin would like to claim victory before May 9, the date of the great military parade in Moscow commemorating the end of World War II.

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