Dvornikov, the Syrian ‘butcher’ tasked with seizing eastern Ukraine | International

General Alexander Dvornikov (first from left) with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Rostov Governor Vasily Golubev on a visit to Rostov-on-Don in July 2021.
General Alexander Dvornikov (first from left) with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Rostov Governor Vasily Golubev on a visit to Rostov-on-Don in July 2021.VADIM SAVITSKII (Sputnik via AFP)

The West baptized him with the nickname of The Syrian Butcher, but the general who has assumed command of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine is more like a coach who arrives in the middle of the season with a broken team and with his figures waging war each on their own. Alexander Vladimiróvich Dvórnikov (Ussuriisk, 60 years old) was appointed commander of all the troops in the theater of war in early April in order to unify a command that until then had been delegated to three unconnected fronts. A failed strategic planning that not only led the lightning “special operation” that the Kremlin expected to a stalemated contest that is approaching two months, but has also put the chief of the General Staff, Valeri Gerasimov, in the spotlight.

Dvornikov’s appointment seems logical, especially after the Defense Ministry focused its objectives on the eastern Donbas region and began to withdraw from the kyiv area. The soldier is already familiar with the terrain, since it was his area as he was in command of the Russian Southern Military District since 2016, where he exercised direct control of the 8th Combined Arms Army and the forces of the self-proclaimed separatist and pro-Russian republics of Donetsk. and Luhansk. In addition, his district, unlike other fronts, has managed to score some successes in the offensive against Ukraine.

In addition, Dvornikov is the highest-ranking military district commander. Russian President Vladimir Putin promoted him in 2020 to the rank of army general, the second highest ranking within the Russian Armed Forces. To situate himself, he shares the same rank as the Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigú, and the Chief of the General Staff, Valeri Gerasimov, who has disappeared in the eloquent background for weeks.

“If Putin had selected another officer to lead the entire war effort, he probably would have had to relieve Dvornikov. Therefore, there is no reason to assume that Dvórnikov was specifically selected for any particular skill or experience he might have”, highlights an analysis by the American Institute for the Study of the War signed by experts Karolina Hird, Mason Clark and George Barros. .

Dvornikov’s military career is not very different from that of other Russian officers. A graduate of the Ussuri Suvorov Military School, he gradually rose through the ranks and served as commander of a rifle regiment in the North Caucasus until 2003, for which he probably participated in the Second Chechen War. He was later appointed deputy commander of the Eastern Military District, and like many other colleagues he rotated from one district to another.

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Thanks to this rotation, he had the opportunity to be elected in September 2015 as the first commander to be sent by Moscow to the Middle East to defend the Bashar al-Assad regime. In the opinion of the experts, to give him the nickname The Butcher of Syria is to give too much importance to one more of the Russian generals who have brutally directed a war in that country in support of the power of Damascus that in the last decade has claimed more than 350,000 lives and has forced millions of people to flee.

“Dvornikov has less experience in Syria than many of his colleagues. He served as commander for 10 months. By comparison, the heads of the Western, Alexander Zhuravlyov, and Eastern, Alexander Chaiko, military districts served 24 and 20 months, respectively. thinktank American, who recalls that the Russian forces “attacked civilians throughout their intervention” and that due to the continuous rotation of officers “all current district commanders and many other military leaders were complicit in those crimes” against the Syrian population.

The new head of the campaign in Ukraine participated in the fierce battle of Aleppo for a few months and received the title of Hero of the Russian Federation, but had already been appointed head of the Southern District when that bloody five-year siege ended in December 2016 However, his experience as the creator of the initial command structure in the Syrian scenario, where he had to integrate a myriad of militias and remnants of the Syrian army with the Russian forces, has been able to weigh on his election by Putin.

Dvornikov himself has shed flowers in the past about his role in that conflict in various articles published over the years. In an interview granted in 2016 to the official newspaper Rossiskaya Gazetathe military painted an apocalyptic scenario for El Assad until the arrival of Russian support: “The government troops were exhausted after four years of hostilities and had contained the terrorist offensive [como llamaban Moscú y Damasco a los rebeldes y opositores] with great difficulty, but the Russian actions radically changed the situation in the course of five and a half months.”

According to the general, the key was “the coordinated work of the Russian aviation with the government units [de El Asad] and the patriotic militias on the ground” and “the creation in a very short time of a system of advisers who successfully resolved the training of government troops, Kurdish forces and other national formations”.

And another article written in his own handwriting in 2018 repeated that message: the creation of a single command under his leadership turned the war upside down “by not only guaranteeing the continuity and efficiency of the high command, but also linking all the elements in a single reconnaissance and attack information field. That is to say, the same work that the Kremlin now demands of it to coordinate its old troops with the battered forces of the western and eastern districts that have been withdrawn from fronts such as the one in kyiv to reinforce the one in Donbas, in addition to other units such as the troops Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechen militias and the Donetsk and Lugansk militias.

However, experts doubt that this “late appointment” of Dvornikov will solve at a stroke the problems of command, logistics and morale facing the Russian army in Ukraine. To begin with, because of the serious losses of commanders suffered so far. In fact, this same Saturday, Vladimir Frolov, another general who reported to Dvórnikov, was buried in Saint Petersburg. Later, “because of the indications seen that they have not been able to carry out simultaneous offensive operations in Kherson, Donbas and Izium.” And finally, by Dvornikov’s own command so far.

The Southern District had been the most effective due to its high preparation before the war in contrast to the rest, whose units were deployed before the invasion with little time to cohere their structures. However, it has not been completely successful either: Mariupol is still holding out almost two months after the war began. “Dvornikov has been in command of operations in the city. He may have tried to apply many of the lessons learned in Syria, but his conduct of urban warfare in Mariupol has not been remarkable in its success, speed, or human costs,” experts say.

In addition, the experts emphasize that if his experience in Aleppo were a decisive factor, he would have been appointed to the kyiv front sooner: “The tactics and approaches used by the Russian forces in both Syria and Ukraine are not unique to Dvornikov or of another specific commander”.

In an interview granted last December, in the midst of diplomatic negotiations against the clock between Moscow, Washington and the European Union to avoid war while Russia reinforced its deployment around Ukraine, Dvórnikov gave another interview to the newspaper Red Star where he left some clues of the future war. “April 2021 was the first time that the troops of the Southern Military District carried out such a massive exercise during the winter,” the general said. Dvornikov boasted in relation to those maneuvers that his forces had received more than 1,500 “state-of-the-art” military equipment and that he had 160 “shock” battalions. “Given the difficult political-military situation in our area, the leadership has given us priority in rearming the troops. At the moment, we have reached a modernization of 71% of our arsenal”, he added.

“We think that [los rusos] They want to achieve some tangible, physical objectives in Donbas in the next two weeks, but how far they will go, we do not know in such detail, ”said the Pentagon this week. This will be the great challenge for Dvórnikov, who according to experts is a firm candidate to succeed his direct chief at the head of the General Staff. Valeri Gerasimov is still missing from the spotlight after the failure of a “special operation” that contemplated bringing down the government of Volodymyr Zelensky in a rapid advance in a short time. Fifty-two days later, not even the Donetsk and Lugansk regions have been completely taken from the territories already controlled by the pro-Russian secessionists.

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