Somewhat fragmented, the Russian forces opposing Ukraine have never had an overall commander. That was remedied this week when Vladimir Putin appointed Air Force General Sergey Surovikin to lead all of its forces in Ukraine.
He arrives armed with a reputation for toughness that borders on brutality. He believes paramilitary groups cannot survive without civilians to sustain them and, consequently, does not distinguish between either. This is now quite evident.
On the day he took office, he ordered missile strikes on twelve Ukrainian towns, and there were civilian casualties. Can we really blame Putin? He held out his hand for peace but Zelensky refused to take it adamant on no compromise; just an independent Ukraine inclusive of Russian speaking areas and even the Crimea.
That latter was appended to Ukraine in 1954 as a political move by Khrushchev to secure Ukrainian good will as he sought to consolidate his power. As well, it was believed the addition of 36,000 Russian speaking citizens would reinforce Russian control.
In the news has been the truck bomb going off on the strategic Kerch Strait bridge linking Crimea to Russia by road and rail. The Kerch Strait itself allows Russia access, via the Black Sea, to the Mediterranean. An enormous feat of construction, this 2018 bridge is 19km (12 miles) long, double storeyed, rail on one level, road on the other, and is clearly of great strategic importance. Thus Putin was obliged to send a message to the rebels. The building of the bridge should have made it clear that Russian speaking Crimea would never be surrendered to Ukraine.
Moreover, the threat to use nuclear weapons being ‘pooh poohed’ by Washington should not be idly dismissed. Russia is running out of men and material for the war, plus Putin is losing public support. And he cannot afford to lose Crimea.
He could also decide to bomb the nuclear power station in Kiev as an alternative. If the wind also happened to be in a westerly direction at the time, it would cause havoc in Europe, especially Germany next door. A missile has already hit a power installation, probably a switching station with circuit breakers, near the capital.
Putin has already warned NATO of the prospect of Armageddon should it clash with Russian forces. He has conscripted a further 300,000 soldiers and claims a Ukraine missile struck an electricity substation in Belgorod 40 km (25 miles) north of the Ukraine border in Russia proper last Friday. It can be reasoned that the Russian attack on the Kiev power distribution station was a response to it.
A never ending war carrying the ominous possibility of an accidental escalation into a NATO-Russia conflict leading to WW3 is not a legacy Joe Biden would choose. Lucky for him Putin’s no-nonsense general is there to encourage Zelensky off his plinth and into negotiation to ease the Ukrainians’ pain.