Russia’s reported appointment of Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, a man with a history of targeting civilians, to take over operations in Ukraine marks what some military analysts see as an indication that Russia intends to terrorize civilians as the war progresses.
Dvornikov, who most recently oversaw Russian troops in Syria, was chosen as the new ground commander in Ukraine, a U.S. official and a Western official confirmed.
The decision to bring in Dvornikov could be an acknowledgment of what U.S. intelligence officials have described as a failure to achieve the quick takeover Russian President Vladimir Putin envisioned, retired Adm. James Stavridis said on Sunday.
“The appointment of this new general indicates Vladimir Putin’s intent to continue this conflict for months, if not years,” Stavridis said.
Dvornikov is known as the “Butcher of Syria,” Stavridis noted.
Intelligence officials have said that Putin expected the invasion in February to be a swift and easy win for the Kremlin but that it was met with an unrelenting resistance. Bringing in Dvornikov, a man known for his cruelty to civilians, is an attempt to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people, Stavridis warned.
“He is the goon called in by Vladimir Putin to flatten cities like Aleppo in Syria,” Stavridis said. “He has used tools of terrorism throughout that period, including working with the Syrian forces, torture centers, systematic rape, nerve agents. He is the worst for the worst.”
It remains to be seen whether Russia’s “broken” command structure will find success in Ukraine, retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey told on Saturday. Putin’s military failed to take control early on and has apparently now switched tactics, McCaffrey said.
“They’ve now gone to terrorizing civilians is our primary tool,” he said. “And 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.”
The potential horrors facing Ukrainians under Russian occupation were starkly brought into focus last week after Ukrainian forces retook the town of Bucha near the capital, Kyiv. Residents described arbitrary killings, intimidation and looting by Russian soldiers in the five weeks under their control.
Ukrainian officials estimate hundreds of civilians were killed in Bucha, and they accuse Moscow of committing war crimes there. Russia has denied targeting nonmilitary targets and accused Ukraine of staging atrocities to discredit it.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan did not confirm or deny the appointment. He said on “Meet the Press” that the U.S. “will do whatever we can to help Ukraine succeed.”