Russia appoints new commander-in-chief of its army in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) toasts with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev next to Sergei Surovykin, the commander of Russian troops in Syria, after a state award ceremony for military personnel who fought in Syria, at the Kremlin in Moscow 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 appointed 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 include bolstering Russian troops after a series of setbacks, including heavy troop and equipment losses, 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 Russians 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 called up civilians.

The Kremlin’s decision to impose a partial plan was prompted in part by a series of surprising Ukrainian advances in recent weeks.

Last week, Putin declared that four Ukrainian regions now belong to Russia. The Russian leader cited the referendums, widely seen as rigged and illegal by Western governments, which were held in Russian-held regions of Ukraine.

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

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

Armed with an arsenal of Western weapons, Ukrainian forces have recaptured vast swaths of territory seized by Russian forces since the early days of the war. Their successes on the battlefield have tarnished the reputation of the Kremlin’s powerful war machine.

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

So far, the UN estimates that Russia’s invasion has killed more than 6,000 civilians and resulted in more than 8,600 injuries. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights adds that the death toll in Ukraine is likely higher.

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