Putin shakes up Ukraine war leadership as defense officials warn of eastward focus


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Russian President Vladimir Putin has named a new commander to lead operations in Ukraine as officials warn Moscow is seeking to focus on eastern Ukraine after more than six weeks of war.

General Alexander Dvornikov, commander of Russia’s Southern Military District (SMD), will now lead the invasion, the BBC first reported on Friday evening.

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An image released by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry on Thursday, February 17, 2022 shows the frontline in Donbass, an area of ​​conflict with Russian-backed separatists, during President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s visit to the Donetsk region, at the eastern Ukraine.
(EYEPRESS via Reuters Connect)

Dvornikov not only has known experience in the Russian campaign in Syria, but also led military exercises in southern Russia last year, just along Ukraine’s border with the Donbass region.

A Western official told the media that the change of command would improve Russia’s flagging invasion after it failed to take the capital kyiv despite weeks of bombardment and attempts to push ground forces through the country.

“Unless Russia is able to change tactics, it is very difficult to see how it will succeed even in these limited goals that it has reset itself,” the official said.

But Russia has made bigger advances in southern and eastern Ukraine — a breakthrough that senior U.S. defense officials say is largely due to its eight-year illegal occupation of areas like the Crimea.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned this week that Russia was seeking to focus its efforts on a “major offensive” in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed forces are fighting the Ukrainian army. since 2014 in the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. .

The breakaway regions are located along Ukraine’s eastern border in an area known as Donbass.

Six months before Russia invaded Ukraine under the guise of a “special military operation”, Dvornikov directly supervised military exercises that practiced “combined arms operations from August 9 to September 15” in southern Russia, according to the Institute for the Study of War.

The exercises would have included “tactical tasks” involving “motorized rifle, tank and artillery battalions” in coordination with attached specialist units.

Relatives of Colonel Vladimir Zhoga, commander of a reconnaissance battalion of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, mourn during a farewell ceremony in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Monday, March 7, 2022. Zhoga posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Russian Federation.

Relatives of Colonel Vladimir Zhoga, commander of a reconnaissance battalion of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, mourn during a farewell ceremony in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Monday, March 7, 2022. Zhoga posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Russian Federation.
(AP Photo)

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Specialized units focused on “biological, radiological and nuclear” defences. Reconnaissance, logistical electronic warfare, medical training, aviation and military police exercises also took place.

“Caspian Flotilla and Black Sea Fleet warships, naval infantry and at least 80 fixed and rotary wing aircraft” also took part in the drills, the report noted.

The training took place along the eastern border of Ukraine as well as in occupied Crimea and parts of occupied Georgia.

The report noted that Russian forces were seeking to practice joint operations based on lessons learned from experiences in Syria.

The United States and NATO have pledged to increase military support as officials warn the war in eastern Ukraine is set to become increasingly brutal.

“It will be a knife fight. It could be very bloody and very ugly,” a senior US defense official told reporters on Friday. “The Russians are limiting their geographic targets, and they still have a lot of combat power at their disposal.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal stand next of a mass grave during their visit to the town of Bucha, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, outside kyiv, Ukraine, April 8, 2022.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal stand next of a mass grave during their visit to the town of Bucha, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, outside kyiv, Ukraine, April 8, 2022.
(REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko)

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The official said the United States believed Russia was seeking to add 60,000 recruits to its war effort as it focused on eastern Ukraine – an area roughly the size of Virginia -Western.

US and NATO security officials have warned that the war in Ukraine could continue for months or even years.


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