With Dvornikov's reappointment, the US warns of the "brutality" of Dvornikov's military ways

Alexander Dvornikov: the "bloodthirsty" general at the forefront of the Ukraine invasion

KREMLIN/ALEXEI DRUZHININ via AP - Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, second left, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Nikolai Yevmenov, second right, Commander of the troops of the Southern Military District Alexander Dvornikov

The Kremlin has appointed a new commander to continue Russia's invasion of Ukraine. General Alexander Dvornikov, a military officer with extensive experience behind him, will be tasked with carrying out the new official strategy approved by Moscow: to divide Ukraine into two factions and annex the east of the country to Russian territory.

The choice of Dvornikov is not random. The Russian general led one of the most important military operations in Syria between 2015 and 2016, an action that helped the dictator Bashar al-Assad to gain positions at a time when he was losing important territory to the Free Syrian Army. During this period, this career military officer was known for showing no mercy whatsoever, even to civilians. Under Dvornikov's orders, the Russian army systematically bombed Syrian towns, destroying basic infrastructure ranging from hospitals to water supplies. 

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The aerial bombardment in Syria painted an appalling picture. Russian aircraft ravaged several Syrian enclaves, including the city of Idlib and Aleppo, Syria's most populous city. These attacks earned Dvornikov the designation of 'the butcher of Syria'. Moreover, according to various NGOs, the troops under his command are accused of having abused the civilian population and committed crimes against humanity.

The group "Airways", which monitors air bombing campaigns in Syria, Iraq and Libya, found that these air strikes killed 25,000 Syrians between September 2015 and March 2022. A report published by the group also noted that "to date, Russia has not publicly taken responsibility for the killing of a civilian during the campaign".

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Along with Airways, the Al-Hur Study Institute, a US think tank, said that the main drawbacks facing Russian forces in the advance into Ukraine include "the lack of a commander-in-chief", which "clearly hindered cooperation among Russian forces". It is for this reason that they argue that 'Dvornikov's appointment as commander-in-chief seems logical at this point, given that the main declared Russian efforts fall under his responsibility'.

Furthermore, according to The Washington Post, many of the tactics that Russia has employed in Syria, such as the use of cluster bombs and the bombing of civilian areas and hospitals, are offensives that Moscow has also applied in Ukraine. However, it is not known to what extent Dvornijov helped contribute to these offensives, but he is linked to having worked directly with the Wagner mercenary group, a network that has also been operating in Syria since 2015. 

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This is confirmed by the founder and head of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, Abdul Ghani, after declaring that he may have coordinated the Russian airstrikes together with the mercenaries of the Wagner group in Syria. According to British media, the Russian general is said to be "old school", making him a "blood and soil nationalist".

Despite the damage done, Dvornikov managed to achieve his military objective. So much so that Putin himself decorated him in 2016 with the Hero of Russia medal, one of the country's highest awards, which led to his promotion to the rank of general four years later.

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Dvornikov's appointment comes at a time when the Russian army has announced the withdrawal of its troops to concentrate all its efforts in eastern Ukraine. Some of the claims and intelligence reports that the Russian army suffered from a major lack of leadership may be coming to an end. The same media report that "the lack of cohesion among Russian forces may change in their presence" as "there was no unified military commander of Russian forces in Ukraine before Dvornikov's appointment".

Thus, the new military strategy and refocusing adopted by Moscow stems from the Russian army's failure to take Kiev. They also indicated that Ukrainian resistance is 'stronger than expected', with logistical shortcomings and low morale among Russian soldiers. 

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In addition to his role during the Syrian civil war, the now commander has significant experience in the Donbas. He is also accused of being behind the missile attack on the Kramatorsk train station, an attack that has left more than 50 civilians dead. 

In this regard, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that "the appointment of any general cannot erase the fact that Russia has already faced strategic failure in Ukraine". Sullivan noted that "this particular general has a record of brutality against civilians in other war zones such as Syria. We can expect more of the same in this war zone in Ukraine". 

Since Russia began its invasion more than a month ago, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has verified the deaths of more than 1,700 civilians, including 142 children.
 

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