President Vladimir Putin placed the air force general in command of Russian troops on Ukrainian territory after recent setbacks

Sergei Surovikin, from Chechnya and Syria to Ukraine to instil Russian terror

photo_camera AP/PAVEL GOLOVKIN - Russia's Defence Ministry announced that the head of the air force, General Sergei Surovikin, would be the commander of all Russian troops fighting in Ukraine

Chechnya and Syria, two of the territories where the Russian Armed Forces have been deeply involved in spreading terror in the war conflicts there, were the scenarios where Sergei Surovikin showed his terrible character on the battlefield during Russia's military offensives.  

These experiences earned him a reputation as a ruthless military high commander and he has since become known to some as the "Butcher of Syria". From the period of the Chechen war, he is remembered for promising to "destroy three Chechen fighters for every Russian soldier killed", as some media outlets recalled. In 2017, Surovikin went on to lead the Russian mission in Syria and was decorated as a Hero of Russia, although he was also accused in some quarters of allegedly employing "controversial" tactics, such as indiscriminate bombing against anti-government fighters, as reported by The Guardian. According to the Russian news agency TASS, during the Syrian campaign he was able to take control of much of the territory, major transport links and oil fields, among other key locations. In November 2017 he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Russian Air Force and was seen by various humanitarian organisations as responsible for the destruction from the air of much of the Syrian city of Aleppo. It was already at the end of 2017 that he received the decoration as a Hero of Russia "for courage and heroism shown in the performance of military duty in the Syrian Arab Republic".

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Surovikin's appointment on Saturday as the top commander of troops stationed in Ukraine, replacing Alexander Dvornikov, had its almost immediate translation in Russia's relentless bombardment of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on Monday. Russia had not attacked the city of Kiev with missiles since last June, and since Surovikin took office as head of Russian operations on Ukrainian territory is when a more overwhelming attack has loomed, not only in Kiev, but also in other Ukrainian cities such as Dnipro, Lviv and Zaporiyia.  

The Russian army's setbacks in Ukrainian territory caused nervousness in the Russian ranks and in Vladimir Putin, who had to resort to a partial military mobilisation of part of the population to make up for the casualties and compensate for the withdrawals in some areas of Ukraine in the face of the push by Ukrainian troops, and who even threatened to have a sufficient nuclear arsenal to be able to confront the West. All these problems led Putin to replace Dvornikov with Surovikin, who carries with him a reputation for brutality in warfare due to his record in the Chechen and Syrian wars.  

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Along with the latest setbacks suffered by the Russian army even in areas of Russian-annexed regions came the attack on the Kerch bridge, a key infrastructure for Russia's communication with the Crimean peninsula, which also prompted the violent Russian response mainly on Kiev.  

After the setbacks on the battlefield in Ukraine, there was internal criticism of the conduct of the war and harsh voices were raised against the military leadership. Both Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the private military company Wagner (in Russia's service in Libya and Ukraine itself), and Ramzan Kadirov, a pro-Russian Chechen leader also involved in the Ukrainian war, raised their voices to harshly criticise the evolution of Russian troops on the ground. This spiral eventually led to a change in the leadership of the Russian army in the neighbouring country.

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Against this backdrop, Vladimir Putin saw fit to turn to Sergei Surovikin, an air general with a track record in military campaigns in which Russia was suffering or suffering major setbacks. Surovikin was thus appointed by the Russian Defence Ministry as the main commander of the Special Operations Forces in Ukraine. Kadyrov himself praised Surovikin's appointment, saying that "he will correct the mistakes of the military operation" and that "Russian forces are now in good hands". 

Surovikin is no newcomer to the Ukrainian war. Until taking command of Russian troops, he was in charge of the southern flank military divisions on Ukrainian territory. 

Born in Novosibirsk, Siberia, 56 years ago, Surovikin has been in the Russian Army since 1982 and studied at the Higher College of the Combined Arms Command in Omsk, the Frunze Military Academy and the General Staff Academy. Since March 2017, Surovikin led Kremlin troops in Syria and was subsequently appointed to command the Russian Aerospace Forces. 

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He fought in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Chechnya, and later in Syria. He served as commander of Russia's Eastern Military District in 2013 and contributed to the establishment of military infrastructure in the Kuril Islands and the Arctic. In recognition of his military achievements in Syria, President Putin awarded him the rank of general in the army. 

Surovikin carries a reputation for ruthlessness and brutality, although from the Russian side he is seen as a 'tough and demanding military leader'. 

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According to media outlets such as Al-Arab, Surovikin also played an important role during the events of the August 1991 coup against the last Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, who was eventually ousted from power by Boris Yeltsin, who in turn was replaced by current president Vladimir Putin, focused on bringing Russia back to the centre stage of world politics and restoring the geopolitical status that the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) enjoyed as one of the world's global leaders alongside the United States. During the coup d'茅tat against Gorbachev, who was seen from various Russian quarters as the main cause of the collapse of the USSR, Surovikin was a captain and participated in the attempt to take control of the capital, Moscow. 

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He was arrested and imprisoned for six months, but the charges against him were eventually dropped on the grounds that he was carrying out orders under an amnesty decree issued by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.