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

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Russian General Alexander Dvornikov became the first head of all armed forces engaged in Ukraine on Sunday. This appointment of a soldier known to have led the Russian strategy of intensive bombing in Syria raises fears of an intensification of abuses against the civilian population.

From the suburbs of Grozny in Chechnya to the heart of Aleppo in Syria, he has a sulphurous reputation as a soldier willing to 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 leading role during the Russian military campaign in Syria. From now on, General Alexander Dvornikov will deal with the war in Ukraine.

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

The man of difficult situations

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

This reorganization should make it possible to “solve communication problems between the troops, which represented one of the weaknesses of the Russian military operation in Ukraine”, believe specialists from the Institute for the Study of War.

The choice of Alexander Dvornikov to take charge of field operations can be justified from a purely geographical point of view. This general manages, in fact, the southern district of the Russian army on which, among others, Crimea and, above all, Donbass depend.

Precisely, after having failed to take the capital kyiv, the Russian forces withdrew to concentrate on the new priority of the Russian General Staff: “secure” the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in Donbass, whose independence had been recognized by Moscow. three days before the invasion of Ukraine.

Therefore, Alexander Dvornikov is supposed to know the terrain better than anyone. But this 60-year-old general also has a reputation as a man for difficult situations and a “true heavyweight of the army”, emphasizes Mark Galeotti, a specialist in Russian military affairs. interviewed by the washington post.

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

Everything changes in 2015, when Alexander Dvornikov becomes the first head of the combined Russian forces in Syria. At that time, the power of Bashar al-Assad, one of Vladimir Putin’s main allies in the region, seemed to be faltering under the joint blows of the opposition and the jihadists of the Islamic State organization, and the opposition to the power in power. .

It was Alexander Dvornikov who invented and then applied the strategy of intensive bombing of several Syrian cities. An approach that, under the guise of attacking Islamist fighters, also weakens the positions 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, shows Moscow that “Alexander Dvornikov knows how to adapt to new situations”, underlines Mark Galeotti.

It does so without much respect for the civilian population. The Russian air force does not hesitate to repeatedly bomb buildings such as hospitals or schools, installing a climate of terror in the Syrian cities attacked. These indiscriminate attacks earned him, if nothing else, a reputation as a soldier who will stop at nothing to achieve his ends.

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Here he also got the nickname “butcher of Syria”. This instrumentalization of the lives of civilian populations does not seem to have bothered Vladimir Putin. On the contrary, the Russian president called his Syrian general in March 2016 to offer him the southern district of the Russian army – one of the most important in the country, in charge of Crimea, Ukraine and Chechnya in particular – and award him the Hero of the Russian Federation, one of the most prestigious.

“He is the brute that Vladimir Putin calls when he wants to raze a city like Aleppo. He is one of the worst of the worst in the Russian military,” said James Stavridis, a former US admiral. interviewed by NBC.

For this retired soldier, the appointment of Alexander Dvornikov at the head of all the forces engaged in Ukraine suggests that other atrocities against the civilian population are expected. He would thus have the same road map as in Syria: use all possible means to reverse a difficult military situation.

“Alexander Dvornikov’s resume – which includes brutality against civilians – makes me think that we should expect more abuses to take place in Ukraine,” said Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, during an interview with “Face the Nation”. “. ” from CBS.

Especially since the Kremlin wants quick results. Vladimir Putin would like to be able to sing victory before May 9, the date of the great military parade in Moscow in memory of the end of World War II.

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