Russia appoints new overall commander for its military in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) toasts Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev with Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russian troops in Syria, after a state award ceremony for military personnel who fought in Syria, in Moscow Kremlin on December 28. 2017. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV/POOL/AFP) (Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Kirill Kudryavtsev Afp | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Russia has named a new commander to lead all its forces in Ukraine as the Kremlin’s war enters its eighth month.

Sergei Surovikin, an army general who also oversees Russia’s air force, previously led Russian forces in Syria. His new role will involve galvanizing Russian troops after a series of setbacks, including heavy losses of troops and equipment, and the seizure of thousands of square miles of occupied territory.

Surovikin’s appointment comes on the heels of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to conscript hundreds of thousands of Russian men into the war. Putin’s order for some 300,000 Russians to join the fight in Ukraine is the first time since World War II that Moscow has recruited civilians into the military.

The Kremlin’s decision to impose a partial draft was triggered in part by a series of surprising developments by Ukraine in recent weeks.

Last week, Putin declared that four regions of Ukraine now belonged to Russia. The Russian leader cited referendums, widely considered rigged and illegal by Western governments, held in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine.

“The results are known, well known,” Putin said on September 30. “There are four new regions of Russia,” referring to the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

After Putin’s speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he would submit an “accelerated” application for his country to join the NATO military alliance.

Armed with an arsenal of Western weapons, Ukrainian forces have retaken large swaths of territory that had been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the war. His successes on the battlefield have tarnished the reputation of the Kremlin’s powerful war machine.

But as Ukraine struggles to take back the land one village at a time, the cost to civilians has been enormous.

So far, the UN estimates that Russia’s invasion has claimed more than 6,000 civilian lives and caused more than 8,600 injuries. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights adds that the death toll in Ukraine is likely to be higher.

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