Russia’s “General Armageddon” in the spotlight
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu appointed Army General Sergey Surovikin to command all Russian forces in Ukraine on Saturday, the same day when an explosion on the Kerch bridge that connects Crimea to Krasnodar Krai sank a section of the road.
Shoigu said: “Army General Sergey Surovikin has been appointed to command the joint group of forces in the area of the special military operation in Ukraine based on the Russian defense minister’s decision."
Early career and 1991 Coup
Sergey Surovikin was born in 1966 in Novosibirsk, a city in Central Siberia. In 1987, at the age of 21, he participated in the Soviet-Afghan War.
Surovikin first became known during the 1991 coup d’etat attempt launched by Soviet hardliners. He led a rifle division to drive through the barricades set up by pro-democracy protesters in Moscow’s Garden Ring. During the clash, three anti-coup protesters were killed.
Surovikin, then a captain, was arrested and spent seven months in custody. He was acquitted of the charges since he “simply followed orders.”
Boris Yeltsin, the first president of Russia demanded that Surovikin should be released immediately and promoted him to Major “splendidly carrying out his military duty.”
Grigory Yudin, a Russian political scientist and sociologist said: “It is highly symbolic that Sergei Surovikin, the only officer who ordered to shoot on revolutionaries in August 1991 and actually killed three people, is now in charge of this last-ditch effort to restore the Soviet Union.”
Chechnya and “Total Ruthlessness”
Surovikin was a veteran of both Chechen Wars in the 1990s and 2000s, he was wounded several times in action. In 1995, he received a suspended sentence for illegal arms trade, which was later overturned.
According to the Jamestown Foundation, he has a “reputation for total ruthlessness.” In 2004, he was accused of physically assaulting subordinate officers. Colonel Andrei Shatkal reportedly committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in Surovikin’s office after a dress-down by the general.
In 2005, while a commander in Chechnya, Surovikin announced that “ he would kill three Chechens for every one of his soldiers killed.”
Syrian Civil War
In March 2017, Surovikin was sent to Syria as Moscow wanted to give firsthand experience to high-ranking officers. His mission in Syria was supposed to last for three months but he ended up overseeing the Russian campaign in Syria until the end of the year.
Surovikin was promoted to air force commander and The Russian Defense Ministry credited him with achieving critical gains in Syria, saying that Russian and Syrian forces “liberated over 98 percent” of the country under his command.
Kirill Mikhailov, a researcher with the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) said: “He is being called the ‘Butcher of Syria’ but every general that took the post was a butcher of Syria.”
“The Syrian army under him lifted the siege of the strategic city of Deir al-Zour and recaptured Palmyra for the second and last time, which was quite an important part of the fight against ISIS,” Mikhailov said and added that the thing specific to Surovikin is that he actually fought with ISIS.
He was nicknamed “General Armageddon,” Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper reported that: “He received this unofficial nickname from colleagues for his ability to think outside the box and act tough.”
In October 2020, Surovikin was listed by Human Rights Watch as one of the “Syrian and Russian civilian and military commanders who may bear command responsibility for violations during the 2019-2020 Idlib offensive.”
The founder of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin referred to Surovikin as “a legendary person” and said: “Surovikin is the most competent commander in the Russian army.”
Russian Invasion of Ukraine
One day before the invasion of Ukraine began, Surovikin was added to the European Union sanctions list “for actively supporting and implementing actions and policies that undermine and threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine as well as the stability or security in Ukraine.”
In June 2022, Surovikin was appointed to the southern group of Russian forces. His forces were responsible for capturing the city of Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that he was “formally in charge” when Ukraine staged a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region in September.