By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — With its forces struggling against a dramatic Ukrainian counteroffensive, Russia’s Defense Ministry on October 8 named General Sergei Surovikin as the new overall commander of Kremlin forces engaged in Ukraine.
The move marked the first official announcement of a single overall commander for all Russian forces fighting in Ukraine since its February 24 invasion of the country.
The announcement also came just hours after a blast and fire suspended traffic and damaged a key bridge linking Russia to the occupied Crimean Peninsula early on October 8 in a fresh blow to Moscow’s prestige, although the origin of the blast has not been determined.
“By the decision of the defense minister of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Sergei Surovikin has been appointed commander of the joint group of troops in the area of the special military operation,” the statement said, using the Kremlin’s term for the invasion of Ukraine.
Since 2017, Surovikin has led Russia’s Aerospace Forces — an office created in 2015 when the Russian Air Force, the Air and Missile Forces, and the Space Forces were placed under one command.
In June, Surovikin was placed in charge of Russian troops in southern Ukraine. He had previously served in Tajikistan, Chechnya, and Syria.
In April, the BBC and CNN, citing Western officials and sources, reported that General Aleksandr Dvornikov had been appointed overall commander of Russian forces in Ukraine. The latest announcement did not mention Dvornikov.
Dvornikov has a notorious reputation for his conduct in the war in Syria, where Russia bombed civilian districts. Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded Dvornikov the Hero of Russia medal, one of the country’s highest awards, for his work in Syria.
Moscow in recent weeks has faced increasing — and unprecedented — criticism for the mounting losses in Ukraine, much of it from those with close ties to the Kremlin.
Many pro-Russia military bloggers have slammed the progress in the war, and the leader of Russia’s North Caucasus region of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has vocally called for replacement of many of the military’s top generals.
As Ukraine continues to liberate settlements in its eastern region from occupying Russian troops, Moscow has in fact replaced other top commanders in its armed forces.
The head of Russia’s North Caucasus region of Daghestan, Sergei Melikov, wrote on Telegramon October 7 that North Caucasus native Lieutenant-General Rustam Muradov had been appointed to lead the Eastern Military District.
The district is based in Russia’s Far East, but much of its personnel is currently taking part in Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Muradov, who among other Russian officials has been slapped by Western sanctions, led troops in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, parts of which have been under Russia-backed separatists’ control since 2014. He also commanded Russian peacekeepers in Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
RBK news agency on October 7 cited sources close to the Russian military as saying Muradov replaced Colonel-General Aleksandr Chaiko without giving any details.
On October 3, RBK reported that the commander of the Western Military District, Colonel-General Aleksandr Zhuravlyov, had been replaced shortly after dramatic Russian losses in northeastern Ukraine in September and Ukraine’s recapture of the strategic city of Lyman in the Donetsk region.
In September, General Dmitry Bulgakov, deputy defense minister in charge of logistics, was replaced by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, who is accused by the European Union of orchestrating a siege of the Ukrainian port of Mariupol early in the war that killed thousands of civilians.
In August, state media outlets in Russia said the commander of the Black Sea fleet had been fired after Ukraine carried out several successful attacks, including the sinking of Russia’s missile cruiser Moskva and the loss of eight warplanes in an attack on a Russian base in Ukraine’s Crimea that was seized by Moscow in 2014