Russian hardliners celebrate the new commander in Ukraine. But how long will the enthusiasm for Sergei Surovikin last?
Vladimir Putin likes to portray himself as a strong leader who always holds the reins and follows only his own will. In the end, however, the Kremlin boss looked more like a man pushed into action by advancing Ukrainians and growing demands for the war to escalate from his own ranks. With the appointment of Sergei Surovikin as the new Supreme Commander of the Russian troops in Ukraine, Putin appears to be giving in to pressure from nationalist extremists.
It is significant that Ramzan Kadyrov and Yevgeny Prigozhin received the highest praise for promoting “General Armageddon”, as Surovikin is also known for his war crimes in Syria. The Chechen leader and the head of the mercenary group “Wagner”, with their private armies, are considered the most powerful representatives of the radical supporters of the war and have recently led the leadership of the Russian army in front of them with harsh criticism. The reactions of the two to Surovikin’s appointment sound very different.
“I have known Sergey Surovikin personally for almost 15 years,” Ramzan Kadyrov wrote on Telegram. “I can say with absolute certainty that he is a true general and warrior, an experienced, strong-willed and far-sighted commander who always puts the concepts of patriotism, honor and dignity first.” Prigozhin’s reaction was also expansive: “Surovikin is the most competent commander of the Russian army,” Progozhin wrote on VKkontakte, the Russian Facebook. “As for his personal qualities of him, I can only say that Surovikin is a legend, he was born to faithfully serve the motherland.”
It is not possible to prove whether Putin has succumbed to the pressure of the radicals around Kadyrov and Prigozhin by promoting Surovikin, but it is obvious. Surovikin’s rise in the hierarchy went public on Saturday, the day of the attack on the Kerch Bridge, which connects mainland Russia with the Crimean peninsula. The attack on the bridge sparked unprecedented outrage among Russian war observers and military bloggers, who for the first time since the war began also voicing direct criticism of the Kremlin leader.
“Some war bloggers have criticized Putin and the Kremlin’s inability to publicly respond to events such as the bridge attack, while others have argued that Putin must respond strongly to avoid being seen as weak,” Di War said. the US think tank Institute for the Study. ISW) reactions together. Indeed, Putin’s confidant and former president Dmitry Medvedev had described an attack on the bridge as a red line, to which Russia would respond with a nuclear strike. After the attack, however, nothing was known about Medvedev, who was also criticized by Russian war observers.
The nervous and discontented mood among the war bloggers was evident on another occasion on the day of Surovikin’s appointment. On Saturday afternoon, rumors suddenly circulated about an ongoing military action in Moscow, presumably parts of the city center would be cordoned off and army personnel arrested. The rumors allegedly came from the Ukrainian military intelligence service GUR, but were promptly picked up by some Russian war bloggers.
The “Gray Zone” telegraph channel, believed to be run by “Wagner” people, claimed the Kremlin was withdrawing Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov: this is exactly what the radicals around Prigozhin and Kadyrov has been demanding for weeks. Shoigu and Gerasimov, who have two of Russia’s three nuclear suitcases, are considered Putin’s close confidants. From the point of view of the radicals, they represent the apparently too slack course of the war against Ukraine. The two are expected to be replaced by Governor Aleksey Dyumin and Army General Aleksandr Matovanikov, he said on Saturday on the “Gray Zone” channel.
Though Shoigu and Gerasimov’s arrest turned out to be a rumor, warlord Putin appears to have at least gained some peace from the radicals by recruiting Sergey Surovikin. But for how long? “The scapegoats may be able to deal with dissatisfaction with Putin for a while, but recent criticism from some of his staunchest supporters is probably just a taste of what Putin can expect from this camp,” writes the l ‘ISW.
The radicals’ initial enthusiasm for Surovikin could quickly reverse, the ISW writes and remembers his predecessor as commander-in-chief, General Alexander Dwornikov. He had earned a reputation as a “butcher of Syria” before Putin appointed him supreme commander in Ukraine in April. “Even war bloggers praised these personal details, but they seem to forget them,” writes the ISW. “Now they celebrate Surovikin because he is said to be more brutal than Dvornikov. But this idea is bizarre. In Syria, all Russian commanders have acted with extreme brutality.”