A Change of Command

Russia has revisited the command structure of its faltering operations in Ukraine, picking a general with extensive combat experience in Syria to lead Russian troops in the next phase of the operation, a senior US official said on Saturday.

General Dvornikov (left) in the field. Image courtesy of ibtimes.sg
General Dvornikov (left) in the field. Image courtesy of ibtimes.sg

General Alexander Dvornikov will take charge of the Ukrainian ground campaign in light of a multitude of civilians deaths, slow advances, large numbers of Russian KIA and WIA (wounded in action), and logistical nightmares that have left their troops literally stuck in the mud.

A Logical Promotion

Dvornikov had been commanding Russia’s southern military district before being moved to the head of operations for the entire nation of Ukraine. Prior to that, he served as the first Russian leader in their air war over Syria. In both of these past assignments, he stands accused of war crimes.

Retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC Nightly News Sunday that the decision to bring Dvornikov aboard could be viewed as an acknowledgment of what US intelligence officials have often referred to as Putin’s dissatisfaction with his failure to take over the country quickly.

Stavridis noted:

“The appointment of this new general indicates Vladimir Putin’s intent to continue this conflict for months, if not years.”

He went on to say that bringing in Dvornikov, a man known for his cruelty to civilians, was an attempt to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people.

Bringing Out the Butcher

Dvornikov is known as the “Butcher of Syria,” Stavridis noted.

“He is the goon called in by Vladimir Putin to flatten cities like Aleppo in Syria. He has used tools of terrorism throughout that period including working with the Syrian forces, torture centers, systematic rape, and nerve agents. He is the worst of the worst.”

Dvornikov was the first Russian commander in Syria, awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation award for primarily dropping barrel bombs on defenseless civilians and using poison gas against them.

A medical worker gives a toddler oxygen following a poison gas attack in eastern Ghouta, Syria. Image provided by Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP

Centralized Command and Control

To date, Russia has been running the war in Ukraine out of Moscow, with no centralized commander on the ground to call the shots. This goes a long way to explain why Russia has struggled so badly against Ukrainian resistance.

Because there is no unifying military command structure in Ukraine, efforts of the Russian air, land, and sea units are not in sync. This disorganized way of managing the war has resulted in poor logistics, low morale, and up to 15,000 killed in action on the Russian side.

It has also contributed to the deaths of at least seven high-ranking Russian officers who were leading from the front in an attempt to straighten out the broken Russian battle plan. That need for correction cost them their lives. By contrast, western military commanders would have had more junior officers and senior enlisted personnel work out those tactical kinds of issues empowered to take the initiative and make decisions on the ground.

Tapping Dvornikov as the top battlefield commander seems like an attempt by the Kremlin to coordinate the various Russian units, which thus far seemed to be doing their own thing. Moreover, it may also be about trying to restore troop morale badly mangled by losses on the battlefield and failure to meet their assigned objectives.