Russian President Vladimir Putin war on ukraine falter. Now, there’s a new general in charge – known for brutality.
After Ukraine recently reclaimed more territory than the Russian military captured in the past six months, the Russian Defense Ministry announced last Saturday. His name is Sergei Sorovikin As the new commander-in-chief of operations in the war.
Notably, he previously played an instrumental role in Russian operations in Syria – where Russian fighter jets caused widespread destruction in rebel-held areas – as commander-in-chief of the Russian Air Force.
CNN spoke to a former lieutenant in the Russian Air Force, Gleb Erisov, who served under his command in Syria.
He said Sorovikin was “very close to the Putin regime” and “never had any political ambitions, so he always carried out a plan exactly as the government wanted.”
Analysts say Sorovkin’s appointment is unlikely to change the way Russian forces conduct the war, but it speaks to Putin’s displeasure with the leadership’s previous operations. It is also likely, in part, to be aimed at “pacifying” the nationalist and pro-war base within Russia itself, according to Mason Clark, Russia leader at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has called on Russia to “take more tough measures” including the use of “low-yield nuclear weapons” in Ukraine following recent setbacks, welcomed the appointment of Surovkin, who first saw service in Afghanistan in the 1980s before taking over Commanding a unit in the second Chechen war in 2004. Paying tribute to Kadyrov, a key ally of Putin, may be significant, as he himself is known for his notoriety for crushing all opposition.
“Personally, I have known N. Sergey very well for almost 15 years. I can certainly say that he is a real general, warrior, expert, stubborn and perceptive commander, always taking patriotism, honor and respect above all,” this is what Kadyrov posted on social media, following the news of Sorovkin’s appointment last Saturday. “The United Army Group is now in good hands,” he added.
Eresov, a former subordinate to Sorovikin, left his five-year career in the armed forces after his time in Syria because his political views conflicted with what he lived through. “Of course, you understand who is right and who is wrong,” said Irisov. “I’ve seen a lot of things, being inside the system.”
Then Irisov began what he hoped would be the start of his career as an international journalist, as a military correspondent with Russia’s state news agency TASS. His wife was working there and he felt at the time that it was “the only major information agency” that tried to cover the news in an “unbiased” manner, with “some opportunity for freedom of expression,” he said.
“Everything changed” on February 24, 2022, Irisov said, when Putin’s invasion of Ukraine began, and TASS received orders from the Federal Security Service and the Ministry of Defense that “everyone will be prosecuted if they do not carry out the propaganda scheme.”
He had a family in Kyiv, hiding in bomb shelters, and told CNN he knew “nothing could justify this war.” He also knew from his military contacts that there were already many casualties in the early days of the war.
“For me it was clear from the start,” Irisov recalls. “I tried to explain to people that this war would lead to the collapse of Russia… It would be a great tragedy not only for the Ukrainians but also for Russia.”
Irisov fled Moscow with his pregnant wife and young child on March 8, 2022, after standing up against the invasion. He told CNN he quit his job at TASS and signed petitions and an open letter against the war. After traveling to Armenia, Georgia, Turkey and finally Mexico, where they contacted the US Embassy for help, they are now working to start a new life in West Virginia.
While serving at Latakia Air Base in Syria in 2019 and 2020, the 31-year-old said he worked in aviation safety and air traffic control, coordinating flights with civil airlines in Damascus. He says he saw Sorovikin several times during some missions and spoke to high-ranking officers under his command.
“He angered a lot of people – they hated him,” said Irisov, describing how the “straightforward” and “straightened” general was not liked at headquarters because of the way he tried to apply the infantry experience in the Air Force.
Irisov says he is aware that Sorovikin has strong links with the Kremlin-approved private military company, Wagner Group, which I worked in Syria.
The Kremlin denies any connection with Wagner and insists that PMCs are illegal in Russia.
Sorovikin, whose military career began in 1983, has a checkered history, to say the least.
In 2004, according to Russian media reports and at least two research centers, he reprimanded one of the subordinates so severely that the subordinate committed suicide.
A book by the Jamestown Foundation Research Center based in Washington, DC says that during Failed coup attempt Against former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991, soldiers under Sorovkin killed three protesters, resulting in Sorovkin spending at least six months in prison.
CNN has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment on Sorovikin’s appointment and regarding allegations about his harsh leadership.
In a 2020 report, Human Rights Watch its name As a “person who may bear command responsibility” for dozens of air and ground attacks on civilian objects and infrastructure in violation of the laws of war” during the 2019-2020 Idlib offensive in Syria. The attacks killed at least 1,600 civilians and forced an estimated 1.4 million people to be displaced, According to Human Rights Watch, which cites United Nations figures.
During his time in Syria, the now 56-year-old was awarded the title of Hero of the Russian Federation.
In February of this year, Sorovikin was sanctioned by the European Union as head of the Aerospace Forces “for his effective support and implementation of actions and policies that undermine and threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine as well as stability or security of Ukraine.”
Irisov believes that there are three reasons for his appointment to power now in Ukraine: his closeness to the government and Putin. his experience among the branches with both the infantry and the air force; Since the summer, his experience has been in commanding Russian forces in the Kherson, Zaporizhzhya and Crimea regions of southern Ukraine. These are the areas that Putin is trying to control “at any cost,” Irisov said.
Just two days after Surovkin’s appointment on Saturday, Russia launched the heaviest bombing of Ukraine since the early days of the war.
Irisov said Sorovikin was “more familiar with cruise missiles, and may have used his connections and experience to orchestrate this series of devastating attacks,” referring to reports that cruise missiles were among the weapons Russia deployed in this latest wave of attacks.
But Clark, of ISW, points out that the general’s promotion is “more than framing to inject new blood into the Russian command system” and “putting that ruthless nationalist face.”
Clark said his appointment “gained wide praise from many Russian military bloggers as well as Yevgeny (Prigozhin), the Wagner Group financier.”
It is believed that what is happening now is a reflection of what happened in April, when another commander, Alexander Dvornikov, appointed Commander in Chief of Operations in Ukraine.
“Likewise, before that time he was a commander of one of the groups of Russian forces and had a sort of professional reputation in Syria as Sorovkin in brutality, and acquired that kind of name ‘The Butcher of Aleppo,’” Clark said.
Dvornikov was also seen at the time as the leader “who was going to turn things around in Ukraine and get the job done,” he added. “But the individual commander will not be able to change how intertwined Russian command and control are at this point in the war, or the low morale of the Russian forces.”
And Andrea Kendall Taylor, director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, told CNN this week that Sorovikin’s appointment “reflects the rise of a lot of hard-line voices within Russia … calling on Putin to make changes, bringing in someone willing to carry out these ruthless attacks.” “.
Clarke explains that, “From what we’ve seen, it is very likely that Putin was involved in decision-making right down to a very tactical level and in some cases bypassing the top Russian military officers to interact directly on the battlefield.”
Surovkin personally said that he signed Irisov’s resignation papers from the Air Force. Now, Erisov sees him in charge of operations in Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine – but the impact of the general will or what may be unclear as of yet.
According to Clark, “there is no good option for the Kremlin if Surovikin does not act or if Putin decides he is not up to the task either. There are not many high-ranking Russian officers and it will only lead to a further deterioration of the Russian war effort.”