Who is he and can he change Russia’s fortunes in the conflict?

General Alexander Dvornikov has been named the theatre commander of the military campaign in Ukraine. The 60-year-old led Russian forces in Syria who mercilessly attacked the civilian population

Vladimir Putin appoints new war chief for Ukraine: Who is he and can he change Russia’s fortunes in the conflict?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has appointed General Alexander Dvornikov as a new Ukraine war commander. Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Russia has suffered a massive setback in the war in Ukraine. After it failed to take Kyiv, the Russian military is now turning its attention toward the east of the country. And President Vladimir Putin has appointed a new commander to direct the conflict.

Army General Alexander Dvornikov, commander of Russia’s southern military district, has been named theatre commander of the military campaign in Ukraine, reports CNN.

Who is Dvornikov? What does this mean for the conflict?

It’s been a month and a half since Russia invaded Ukraine but it has had no central commander on the ground until now. Putin has now turned to Dvornikov, 60, one of the country’s most experienced military officers, hoping to get control of the situation. A new leader with extensive combat experience could bring a level of coordination to an assault now expected to focus on the Donbas region, instead of multiple fronts, according to CNN.

Dvornikov started his career as a platoon commander in 1982. He fought during the second war in Chechnya and took several top positions before being placed in charge of the Russian troops in Syria in 2015, reports the news agency Associated Press.

Role in the Syrian war

The Russian general played a key role in the Syrian war. He was the first commander from Russia to be sent to the western Asian nation where Putin positioned his troops in September 2015 to back his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad. Dvornikov served in the war-torn country until June 2016 and the forces under his command were merciless when dealing with the civilian population and regularly committed crimes against humanity. They were known for crushing dissent.

In Syria, Dvornikov set up an airbase near the country’s northwest coast, from where bombers wiped out city after city, leading to massive civilian casualties. The Russian airstrikes helped in laying siege to rebel-held Aleppo, targetting hospitals and schools.

Dvornikov was also responsible for the Russian campaign against Islamic State in Syria’s east, reports Guardian. However, Russia’s first airstrikes did not target IS or a second jihadi group, Jabhat al-Nusra, then active in Idlib. Rather, they struck opposition groups whose attacks on Syrian armour columns had seriously weakened Bashar al-Assad’s hold on the Alawite heartland and, by extension Damascus, the report said.

The Syria campaign was a success, according to Putin, and he awarded Dvornikov the hero of Russia medal, one of the country’s highest awards.

Now in Ukraine, Dvornikov faces a big challenge. The Russian forces do not control the skies and its forces on the ground have been severely hit.

Vladimir Putin appoints new war chief for Ukraine Who is he and can he change Russias fortunes in the conflict

A Ukrainian serviceman walks on a destroyed Russian fighting vehicle in Bucha, Ukraine. After being unsuccessful in taking Kyiv, Russia is now turning its attention toward the east of the country. AP

Will Dvornikov make a difference in Russia’s campaign?

According to military analysts, Russian generals have a deadline ahead of them: Victory Day on 9 May, when Russia observes defeating Nazi Germany and the pressure will now be on Dvornikov to present before Putin some progress in the war.

However, a Europen official said that the deadline was impossible to meet and could lead the Russians to make more mistakes.

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

“This general will just be another author of crimes and brutality against Ukrainian civilians,” he added. “And the United States, as I said before, is determined to do all that we can to support Ukrainians as they resist him and they resist the forces that he commands.”

Lt Col Fares al-Bayoush, a Syrian army defector, told AP that he believed the aim of naming Dvornikov as Ukraine’s war commander was to turn the war into “rapid battles” in several places at the same time.

“I expected him to use the scorched earth policy that was used in Syria,” al-Bayoush said, referring to Russian-backed attacks in Syria in which cities and towns were put under long sieges while being subjected to intense bombardment that left many people dead and caused wide destruction to infrastructure and residential areas. “He has very good experience in this policy.”

“This commander is a war criminal,” al-Bayoush told the news agency by telephone from Turkey.

With inputs from agencies

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