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Putin axes his top general in Ukraine over slow progress

Heavy-drinking ‘Butcher of Aleppo’ joins ranks of sacked commanders after missing deadline to conquer key city


Russian president Vladimir Putin. Photo: Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel

Russian president Vladimir Putin. Photo: Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel

Russian president Vladimir Putin. Photo: Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel

The general heading Russian forces in Ukraine appears to have been sacked over the slow pace of progress in the Donbas, amid reports he is a drunk who was distrusted by his own officers.

If confirmed, the dismissal of General Alexander Dvornikov — named the Butcher of Aleppo for his destruction of the Syrian city in 2015 — would mark yet another major shake-up of Russia’s military command, suggesting Vladimir Putin is unhappy with how the war is unfolding.

Britain’s ministry of defence said yesterday the Kremlin had recently fired several generals, including General-Colonel Andrei Serdyukov, commander of the airborne forces.

It follows weeks of unconfirmed rumours of Putin’s dissatisfaction with Dvornikov’s performance.

Despite being in command of Russian forces fighting in Ukraine since April, Dvornikov (60) has not been seen in public for more than a month.

During this time, the Russian army’s main victory has been to inch toward capturing the Donbas city of Severodonetsk, which Ukrainian forces yesterday had “almost left”, according to the regional governor.

However, Moscow’s army has been dogged by Ukrainian resistance, with its infantry unable to claim many towns despite them being nearly levelled by Russian artillery.

Dvornikov had likely simply taken too long to capture Donbas, which has been Putin’s priority target since his failure to capture Kyiv in March, said Samuel Ramani, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“Dvornikov was given a June 10 target date to conquer Severodonetsk, and while he missed that deadline, he used his trademark Aleppo-style offensive tactics,” he said. Mr Ramani also described the sacking of Serdyukov as “a stunning demise”.

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Serdyukov had commanded around 2,000 Russian paratroopers in January when they deployed to Kazakhstan to help crush unrest. The Kremlin considered the mission a major success and Serdyukov had been earmarked for promotion.

Putin has been accused of micromanaging military operations from the Kremlin, frustrating generals who have complained that he is not competent.

Rumours have been circulating for weeks that he had fallen out with Dvornikov in particular.

In a YouTube interview this month, Christo Grozev, a journalist in the British open-source investigative journalism group Bellingcat, said Dvornikov was known to be a heavy drinker and that officers who worked with him in Syria did not trust him.

“The reputation of Dvornikov from Syria within the army was not very high. They presented to the public that he was a tough strategist, but they already knew that his ability to co-ordinate different types of troops was not very high,” he said.

“He drinks alcohol to excess and decides on situations, such as when to start war, in the middle of the night without any intelligence support.”

Other media outlets have reported that Gen Gennady Zhidko has replaced Dvornikov as commander of Russian forces in Ukraine. He is also a deputy defence minister, with a brief to maintain political and ideological discipline within the Russian army, and like Dvornikov was involved in Russia’s military operations in Syria.

In March, frustrated at his failure to capture Kyiv, Putin sacked eight army generals as well as the head of the FSB intelligence unit, who he blamed for dodgy pre-invasion intelligence.

The Russian president has also fired the heads of various regional security organisations because they have not shown him enough loyalty.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

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