In the summer of 2015, the Syrian regime seemed on the verge of collapse. He had chained military defeats throughout the spring, leaving the rebels to take control of major cities like Idlib and Aleppo.
Towards the end of the summer, President Bashar al-Assad publicly acknowledged that his army was “tired”. And he called on his ally Vladimir Putin for help.
The Russian army begins by quickly establishing an air base at Hmeimim, on the coast of the Mediterranean, halfway between Homs and Aleppo. From there, its bombers leave to pound Aleppo, not hesitating to strike hospitals, schools and even the queues in front of bakeries.
One of the specialties of the Russian offensive against Aleppo is the double strike: the planes return to rain their bombs on the rescuers who have come to help the victims of the first attack.
The siege of Aleppo continues until December 22, 2016, when the last civilians and fighters in the city are evacuated to the Idlib region. The civil war that has been tearing Syria apart for five years is not over. But the Russian intervention helped turn the tide in favor of the regime.
The commander who carried out this difficult mission, which earned him the Hero of Russia medal, is called Aleksandr Dvornikov. Appointed general in 2020, he has just inherited a difficult new mission: that of leading Russian troops during the imminent offensive against eastern Ukraine.
“An old-school Russian general”
Several Western commentators describe Aleksandr Dvornikov as “the butcher of Syria”. The correspondent of Guardian in the Middle East, Martin Chulov, sees him as “an old school Russian general, a nationalist of soil and blood”.
In a recent interview with New York TimesRami Abdelrahman, director of the Syrian Center for Human Rights, which has recorded the victims of the Syrian conflict, accused Aleksandr Dvornikov of being one of the main culprits in the deaths of thousands of civilians in Syria.
But in an analysis published on Tuesday, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) says Aleksandr Dvornikov’s brutal methods are not the central factor in his appointment to head a unified command for the offensive. against Ukraine.
According to this analysis, it followed the normal lines of the hierarchy: he is the most experienced of the three generals present on the Ukrainian ground.
“There is also no reason to think that this appointment will significantly change the course of the war,” note the authors of this analysis.
From war to war
Born in 1961, Aleksandr Dvornikov graduated from the Frunze Military Academy in Moscow. After commanding a motorized rifle division in Moscow, he inherited command of the entire North Caucasus region when the second Chechen war was in full swing. And where Russia mercilessly pounded Grozny, its capital.
It was a few months before the capitulation of the Aleppo rebels in September 2016 that Aleksandr Dvornikov was given command of the military district of southern Russia, which includes Crimea, annexed two years earlier by Russia. In this capacity, he also oversees the Donbass conflict, where pro-Russian secessionists backed by Moscow are engaged in a conflict with Ukrainian forces.
Since the start of the offensive against Ukraine on February 24, its troops have captured several Ukrainian cities, including Kherson and Melitopol, without causing a bloodbath, underlines the Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer in an interview with the daily The weather.
But it was also under his command that the offensive against the strategic city of Mariupol was carried out, where the Russian air force mercilessly pounded civilian targets, including hospitals and a maternity hospital. A strategy that is reminiscent of the siege of Aleppo.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, General Dvornikov was not the only one to show brutality in Syria. And if his experience can be useful in Ukraine, it is above all because he was able to create a unified command which will allow him today to integrate “the military districts of the west, east and center, as well as the divisions of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and the militias of the republics [autoproclamées] of Donetsk and Luhansk”.
In other words, if Vladimir Putin chose to place his war against Ukraine in the hands of Aleksandr Dvornikov, it was because of his qualities as a military administrator rather than his record as a “butcher”. .
But Aleksandr Dvornikov also qualifies for his loyalty to the Kremlin. In an interview with the washington postRussian political analyst Mark Galeotti describes him as “a man on a mission”.
“His mission is his priority, and if he has to hit hard to achieve it, he will do it. »