- BBC News World
The appointment of Serhiy Surovikin to lead Russia’s offensive against Ukraine was made by Vladimir Putin after the destruction of the Crimean bridge, an incident which the Kremlin called a “terrorist act”.
This weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed one of his top men to lead the war in Ukraine.
General of the Russian army, Serhii Surovykin, was appointed on Saturday as the “commander of a joint group of troops in the zone of a special military operation”, as Russia called the invasion of its neighbor.
The decision gives Moscow a glimpse of its military strategy hours after the partial collapse of the Crimean bridge early Saturday morning when a truck exploded, setting seven fuel tanks on fire.
Ukraine did not take responsibility for the incident.
On Monday, Russia struck Kiev with missiles after months of not approaching the Ukrainian capital.
Mr Putin said it was a response to a “terrorist act”, which he blames on Volodymyr Zelenskyi’s government.
It was also Vladimir Putin’s response to hawks in his own camp who are increasingly concerned about Russia’s losses in the war. These hawks are calling for tougher action, analyzes the BBC’s Eastern Europe correspondent Sarah Rainsford.
Kremlin officials and broadcasters who were mortified and dejected just days ago are now applauding this attack on their neighbor, even cheering and dancing in social media posts as Ukraine mourns its dead and crawls through the rubble of multiple attacks.
An experienced general
A native of Siberia, Mr. Surovikin is 56 years old and has had a distinguished military career. He fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Tajikistan and Syria. He brought with him a reputation as a ruthless and cruel man, although Russia describes him as a “tough and demanding commander”.
In Chechnya, his public promise to “destroy three militants for every dead soldier” was widely circulated, according to the Russian news agency TASS.
Before his appointment as an army general in August 2021, Mr. Surovikin participated in the war in Syria.
He led Russian troops there and, according to TASS, from March 2017 took control of most of the territory, the main transport links and oil fields, in particular.
In November 2017, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces. In this position, he is responsible for the aerial destruction of a large part of the Syrian city of Aleppo.
And a month later, he was awarded by Putin, who awarded him the title of Hero of the Russian Federation “for courage and heroism shown while performing military duty in the Arab Republic of Syria.”
The general’s list also includes the killing of pro-democracy protesters in Moscow in 1991 during an attempted coup. He was described as a ruthless man.
The military officer was then arrested, but then Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered his release, TASS reports.
Mr Surovikin already led the South force in Ukraine earlier this year, and according to the BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner, it is unclear how different his appointment will be.
In Ukraine, Russia faced a real army equipped and trained by NATO countries, and the Russians lost ground and prestige.
The Kremlin lost several generals killed at the front, and others were dismissed for incompetence.
And hardliners in Moscow called for a more aggressive approach to achieve their goal of subjugating Ukraine.
The incident on the Crimean bridge increased Russia’s concern about the development of the war.
According to Rainsford, the appointment of Mr. Surovikin to command troops in Ukraine was “Mr. Putin’s concession to the hardliners.”
They have long called for attacks on civilian infrastructure: to freeze the Ukrainian people into submission this northern winter if their soldiers cannot be defeated on the battlefield.
– When will we start fighting? – asked propagandist Volodymyr Solovyov, claiming that it is better for Russia to be feared than laughed at.
Grigory Yudin of the Moscow School of Economics and Social Sciences called Monday’s mass bombing an “act of desperation” aimed primarily at solving Putin’s domestic problems.
The Russian leader appears to have embraced the hawkish idea of ”scaring his opponent to death” to force him to surrender, Yudin wrote on Twitter.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, once considered a liberal, warned that the attacks would be “only the first episode” and that more would follow.
“Obviously, his forces are now scattered on too many fronts. If Mr. Surovikin is considering a radical challenge, he may decide to concentrate in one area and use overwhelming force,” Gardner analyzed.