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Russian General Sergei Slovikin is no stranger to genocide and spreading terror.
In Chechnya, he was a veteran officer with a shaven head, a wrestler’s physique and facial expression to match, and vowed to “destroy three Chechen fighters for every Russian soldier killed.” And in northern Syria, he poignantly remembers ravaging much of the city of Aleppo.
The 56-year-old Air Force General also oversaw the relentless targeting of clinics, hospitals and civilian infrastructure in rebel-held Idlib in 2019, breaking the will of opponents and allowing refugees to reach Europe via neighboring Turkey. In a scathing report, Human Rights Watch said the 11-month campaign “showed a callous disregard for the lives of the region’s nearly three million citizens.” .
Now he is repeating the Syrian playbook in Ukraine.
Two weeks ago, Vladimir Putin delighted Moscow’s hawks by appointing Slovikin as commander-in-chief of Russia’s so-called “special military operations.” Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov praised Slovikhin as “a true general and warrior”. He will “improve the situation,” Kadyrov added in a social media post.
But even the ruthless Slovikin may not be able to reverse Ukraine’s splendid string of victories on the battlefield and turn the tide of the war. Throughout the year, Ukrainians have shown that they are made of tough stuff and are not threatened with war crimes – and they have previously been subjected to bombing and artillery fire by equally unscrupulous Russian generals. I have endured.
But Western military officials and analysts are noting that there are already signs of more tactical coherence than was seen under his predecessor, General Alexander Dvornikov. The tactic completely violates the rules of war, but unfortunately it has proven effective in Syria,” a senior British military intelligence officer told POLITICO. has a competent record — no matter how vicious,” the officer added.
Surovikin and other officials note that last week’s wave of large-scale attacks targeted Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. The strike over the weekend resulted in power outages across the country, leaving more than 1 million households without power, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy prime minister of Ukraine’s president’s office, said on Saturday.
Ukrainian President Zelensky said in his nightly video address, “These are cowardly attacks on important objects. The world can and must stop this terrorism,” he said. “The geographic scope of this latest large-scale strike is very wide,” added Zelensky. “Of course, he does not have the technical ability to shoot down Russian missiles and drones 100%. is shot down.”
But intercepting most of the attacks Russia is launching against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure will not be enough to stop the chaos that Slovikin is trying to provoke with a strike. The amount of damage done to Ukraine’s power system over the weekend has surpassed what was inflicted in the first strike against Energy’s infrastructure on Oct. 10, state-owned grid operator Ukrenergo said in his Telegram post. according to.
Ukrainian officials say about a third of the country’s power plants have been destroyed since the attacks began.
And for Russia, the cost of air strikes is cheap, relying on Iran’s Shahed-136 unmanned aerial vehicles, which basically fly bombs called “Kamikaze drones.”
With a range of 2,500 kilometers, drones hover over targets until ordered to attack. With a wingspan of 2.5 meters, he is difficult to spot by radar and costs an estimated €20,000 compared to a cruise missile that costs as much as €2 million to build.
Last week, the White House said Iranian drone experts — trainers and tech support workers — had been deployed to the ground in Russia-annexed Crimea to help launch an attack on Ukraine. “Tehran is now directly engaged on the ground through the provision of weapons that are impacting Ukrainian civilians and civilian infrastructure,” said national security spokesman John Kirby.
But seeking help from Iran also shows Russia’s weakness, Pentagon advisers say. Their use of Iranian drones suggests they are indeed running out of missiles. “Anyway, I don’t think their abilities are as great as they claim. I always thought the Russians were kind of an empty force. The fact that they are going to Iran for drone technology is nothing more than the once vaunted Russian military-industrial complex or the Soviet military-industrial complex. It’s a pretty sad statement,” the adviser told POLITICO.
Drones have helped inflict considerable damage, but the 36kg light explosive payload presents a problem for the Russians – as they are not powerful enough to cause “decommissioning” damage to large power plants. , aiming at small substations instead . . Eventually, Western and Ukrainian experts will also find ways to sabotage the GPS systems that drones rely on to make them miss targets. As such, it may have a short shelf life, Western officials say.
The lack of depth in capabilities is not the only problem facing Russian generals. One of the most debilitating problems for the Russians was the lack of leadership and competent supervision of small units on the battlefield.
Ukrainians have been immersed in U.S. military doctrine and training since 2014, with a specialized force of corporals and sergeants empowered to understand the big picture and make battlefield decisions when leading units. focused on building Atlantic Council analyst John Barranco, who oversaw the initial U.S. Marine Corps operations in Afghanistan and served in Iraq after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The failure of the Russians to build such a cadre is troubling them in Ukraine and it is not a shortage that Slovikkin has time to correct. The situation is likely to get worse, as they are sending conscripts trained to war into battle.
After just a few days of training, conscripts are already dead. The conscripts were then sent to the southern port city of Kherson, now an important frontline at this stage of the war, where Russian authorities ordered all residents to leave ahead of the final advance by Ukrainian forces. .
The city of Kherson is the only regional capital Russia has been able to occupy since the invasion began. This was an important award in establishing a land bridge between Crimea and southern Ukraine, and also paved the way for a potential attack on Odessa, a major port on the Black Sea.
But the Ukrainian counteroffensive that started in the summer is now weighing on the city of Kherson. Russia’s tactical position in the region is very precarious, with units of the Airborne Forces entrenched on the west bank of the Dnieper and very vulnerable. “From a battlefield geometry point of view, this is a terrible position for the Russians,” Jack Watling, a land warfare expert at Britain’s Royal Union Service Institute, told his POLITICO.
Watling, who conducts operational analysis with the Ukrainian Chief of Staff, said the Russians in the West Bank have one of their most capable forces, but will ensure they are resupplied “on the scale necessary to be competitive.” It can’t be done and they say they won’t be able to do it.
“Ukrainians have the initiative and can set the tempo,” Watling said. “From a purely military point of view, it would be far better for the Russians to withdraw from the city of Kherson and concentrate on holding the river. [from the east bank] And having committed most of their forces to the Zaporizhia Axis, for political reasons they are slow to do so and seem ready to fight any delayed action.”
This appears to be in line with what the Ukrainian General Staff reported over the weekend. The movement of Russian troops has occurred in the Kherson area, with some units preparing for urban warfare, while others are withdrawing.
In short, Slovikin is forced to try to carry out one of the most difficult military operations. This is an orderly withdrawal to redeploy troops, including poorly trained conscripts and uncohesive units. When more experienced Russian forces attempted the same move last month near Kharkov in northeastern Ukraine, they were routed.
Ferocity alone will not save Russian conscripts from a determined and agile Ukrainian army. It matters whether Surovikin has the tactical skill to survive a dangerous retreat.