Russia appoints new military commander after series of Ukraine setbacks

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By Euronews  with AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin applauds Sergei Surovikin during an awards ceremony for troops who fought in Syria
Russian President Vladimir Putin applauds Sergei Surovikin during an awards ceremony for troops who fought in Syria   -   Copyright  Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik

Russia appointed a new commander on Saturday to lead its troops in Ukraine after suffering a series of military setbacks over the past weeks.

Sergey Surovikin, a general, previously led Russian forces in Syria. Here he was accused of using brutal and controversial military tactics, such as the indiscriminate bombing of anti-government strongholds.   

This is the first time Russia has named a single overall commander of its military campaign in Ukraine. 

The appointment came on the same day that a huge blast tore through the Russian Crimea bridge, dealing Moscow a stinging blow. 

Until now Surovikin led the “South” forces in Ukraine, according to the Russian defence ministry. The change follows the reported sacking earlier this week of the two Russian army commanders.

A Ukrainian counter-offensive has routed Russian troops in several places across south and eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, casting a gloomy cloud over Russia's war. 

Surovikin first gained notoriety as a general after ordering his troops to fire on pro-democracy protestors in the 1990s. 

His new role will involve reinvigorating the Russian offensive, which has lost large amounts of troops, equipment and territory, some of which was annexed at the end of September. 

Surovikin, 55, is seen as having improved the effectiveness of Russian forces in east Ukraine. 

He took command of the southern military group in the summer, having replaced General Alexander Dvornikov, who lasted just months in the position.

Surovikin has a shady past, serving time in prison twice for allegedly selling weapons and then leading a military column against protesters during the 1991 coup, which resulted in three deaths. 

Charges against Surovikin over the deaths of anti-coup protestors were dropped as then-Russian leader Boris Yeltsin concluded he was only following orders. 

Surovikin led Russian forces in Syria from September 2017. 

Amid his support, the fortunes of the Syrian government changed and it was able to recapture 50% of the country from opposition forces. 

According to military experts, Surovikin managed to turn the tide of the war in Syria, particularly through a controversial bombing campaign that inflicted a high toll on civilian populations.

He previously served in Tajikistan, Chechnya and Afghanistan.