You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Who is General Sergei Surovikin? Russian hawks celebrate brutal arrival of ‘General Armageddon’ in Ukraine

The i 11/10/2022 Kieron-monks
General Sergei Surovikin, the new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine (Photo: AP) © Provided by The i General Sergei Surovikin, the new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine (Photo: AP)

General Sergei Surovikin celebrates his 56th birthday on Tuesday 11 October as the toast of Russian hawks, after marking his appointment as commander of armed forces in Ukraine with a barrage of missiles at Ukrainian cities on Monday.

A Siberian with a reputation for both brutality and competence who has long been earmarked for leadership, General Surovikin became the first man to be given overall command of the Russian operation on Saturday 8 October, shortly after the bombing of the Kerch Bridge.

There is confidence among the most hardline elements of Russia’s military establishment that he can help turn around a floundering military campaign, and his appointment was widely celebrated. “Surovikin is the most competent commander in the Russian army,” said Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner paramilitary group, on the day of his appointment.

The new commander has a chequered record over his military career. General Surovikin was made a battalion commander in 1991 just four years after graduating from military college, and participated in a failed coup intended to prevent the break-up of the former USSR, in which his men killed three protesters. He was arrested and briefly imprisoned but released a short time later.

The Siberian was arrested again – and quickly released again – four years later for firearms offences. He continued to rise through the ranks thereafter, reaching the rank of commander and leading a division during the Second Chechen War. General Surovikin’s command was dogged by scandal. A subordinate reportedly shot himself after brutal persecution at his hands.

He rose again to become commander of Russian forces in Syria in 2017, where his army was implicated in a succession of atrocities including “dozens of unlawful air and ground strikes on hospitals, schools, and markets,” according to Human Rights Watch. He was awarded the Hero of Russia medal for his service as his troops successfully defended the regime of Putin ally Bashar Al-Assad, and then elevated to the rank of general.

General Surovikin’s latest promotion has been in the pipeline for months, according to Russian independent outlet Meduza, citing sources in the Kremlin. The move may have been hastened by the rapid progress of Ukraine’s counter-offensive.

The new commander could hardly have made a better first impression on Russia’s ultranationalists, who have become increasingly fractious after recent setbacks on the battlefield. “If Surovikin is responsible for today, we need to find a way to make this man rich and famous,” posted far-right military blogger Yevgeny Rasskazov on Telegram after missile strikes on Kyiv.

But there is also recognition that General Surovikin faces a severe test to resolve the multiple long-term problems the Russian military has with organisation, morale, equipment, and logistics that have consistently undermined the invasion. “The situation that was handed to him by predecessors… was not in the best way,” said Mr Prigozhin.

In an online statement, the Ministry of Defence gave a bleak assessment of the Russian general’s prospects: “Surovikin’s appointment likely reflects an effort by the Russian national security community to improve the delivery of the operation. However, he will likely have to contest with an increasingly factional Russian MoD, which is poorly resourced to achieve the political objectives it has been set in Ukraine.”

President Vladimir Putin’s former speechwriter Abbas Gallyamov, now a political analyst, suggested the appointment was unlikely to make a significant impact.

“I don’t think this (makes a) difference of crucial importance, if it did Putin would have appointed him long ago,” he told i. “It looks more like a desperate search for some alternative.”

“Surovikin might be the devil personified but the resources of the system are almost exhausted.”


More From The i

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon