Russia appoints new supreme commander of its army in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) clink glasses with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev next to Sergei Surovikin, commander of Russian troops in Syria, after a ceremony to bestow state awards on military personnel who fought in Syria December 28 at the Moscow Kremlin. 2017. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / POOL / AFP) (Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Kirill Kudryavtsev | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Russia has appointed a new commander to lead all of its forces in Ukraine as the Kremlin’s war marches into its eighth month.

Sergei Surovikin, an army general who also oversees the Russian Air Force, previously led Russian forces in Syria. His new role will be to mobilize Russian forces after a series of setbacks, including heavy losses in troops and equipment, and the loss of thousands of square miles of occupied territory.

Surovikin’s appointment follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to recruit hundreds of thousands of Russian men for the war. Putin’s order for some 300,000 Russians to join the fight in Ukraine marks the first time Moscow has conscripted civilians into the military since World War II.

The Kremlin’s decision to push through a partial draft was prompted in part by a series of startling Ukrainian advances in recent weeks.

Last week Putin declared that four Ukrainian regions are now part of Russia. The Russian leader cited referendums widely viewed as rigged and illegal by Western governments, held in the 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 Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson regions.

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

Armed with an arsenal of Western weapons, Ukrainian forces have recaptured vast swathes of land occupied by Russian forces since the war began. Their successes on the battlefield have tarnished the reputation of the Kremlin’s mighty war machine.

But as Ukraine struggles to retake the land village by village, the cost to civilians is huge.

According to United Nations estimates, the Russian invasion has so far claimed the lives of more than 6,000 civilians and injured more than 8,600. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights adds that the death toll in Ukraine is likely higher.

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