Russia's top commander in Ukraine 'has not been seen in two weeks'

Has Putin purged his top commander? General leading the Ukraine war ‘hasn’t been seen in two weeks’ amid rumours he is no longer in charge

  • General Aleksandr Dvornikov has not been seen for two weeks, US officials say 
  • Dvornikov was tapped by Putin in April to lead was after failed attack on Kyiv 
  • But he may have lost command as Russia takes heavy losses in Donbas, US says
  • General Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russia’s general staff, remains missing amid rumours he has also been purged by Putin

Russia’s top commander in Ukraine hasn’t been seen for two weeks and may no longer be in charge of the invasion, officials have claimed. 

General Aleksandr Dvornikov, an accused war criminal who helped Assad gas his own people in Syria, was tapped by Vladimir Putin to lead his armies in April, after he was forced to abandon a blundering assault on Kyiv and refocus on Donbas.

But American officials say General Dvornikov has not been seen for at least two weeks, leading to rumours that he has been purged by Putin.

If confirmed, General Dvornikov will join Admiral Igor Osipov, commander of the Black Sea fleet, and Lieutenant-General Sergei Kisel, leader of the 1st Guards Tank Army, who Western official say have been sacked over battlefield failings.

General Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russia’s general staff, is also believed to be missing with Ukraine saying he has been suspended while Putin decides his fate.

General Aleksandr Dvornikov, tapped by Putin to lead Russian forces in Ukraine in April after the assault on Kyiv collapsed, has not been seen in two weeks, the US says

Dvornikov was ordered to ‘liberate’ the eastern Donbas region and has overseen the capture of Mariupol, but Russian progress has been slow and costly (pictured)

It comes on top of the nine generals that Ukraine claims to have killed and dozens of other top brass who have been confirmed dead in a little over three months of war.

Dvornikov’s disappearance was first reported by the New York Times, after a briefing by American officials on the state of the invasion.

They say Russia is repeating the ‘same mistakes’ in Donbas that saw troops humiliated in a push to take Kyiv, including a lack of coordination between different branches of the military and a ‘plodding’ pace of advance.

Though Russia’s Donbas offensive has met with some successes, the officials said units already mauled in the assault on Kyiv are being ‘worn down’ by the advance.

Risk-adverse Russian pilots are still refusing to enter Ukrainian airspace, they said, instead preferring to fire missiles and quickly exit due to fears of being shot down.

Lacking control of the skies means Putin’s forces on the ground are exposed to attacks by Ukraine’s own air force, including home-made drones.

Heavy artillery and relatively short supply lines in Donbas have handed Russia the upper hand in some parts of Donbas, the officials said, with troops taking Mariupol and making gains in Severodonetsk.

But advanced US rocket artillery – which President Biden announced he would send to Ukraine yesterday – and stretched supply lines as Russia pushes further into Ukraine could see these wiped out.

Coordination between elements of the Russian military did improve somewhat after General Dvornikov was appointed, observers said, but he has been unable to fix ‘fundamental flaws’ in how the army functions.

General Dvornikov has a long, bloody and fearsome reputation as a commander of Russia’s armed forces.

From 2016, Dvornikov oversaw Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war – helping president Bashar al-Assad crush his enemies and some of America’s former allies.

During that time, chemical weapons and indiscriminate air strikes were used – resulting in thousands of civilian casualties.

Born in 1961, Dvornikov began his career in Soviet Military School, before going on to join the Soviet Army in 1978. He was educated further at the Moscow High Command Training School, where he graduated in 1982.

Since then, he risen the ranks in the Soviet and then Russian army – serving in senior positions in various divisions and graduating from the Military Academy of the General Staff in 2005.

In 2008, he took command of the the 5th Red Banner Army, before serving as deputy commander of the Eastern Military District, and then as the the Central Military District’s chief of staff.

In September 2015, he became the first commander of the Russian Armed Forces in Syria at the start of Moscow’s intervention in the country, and took charge of its military operation there in 2016.

Vladimir Putin is said to be purging the top ranks of his military as he increasingly tries to take personal control of the war

Russia intervened when the Syrian government, led by Assad, requested help from its ally to crush rebel groups in the country – employing a brutal regime of air strikes that helped the government regain significant territory.

According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), by the end of September 2017, Russian airstrikes had killed around 5,703 civilians – around a quarter of them children – along with thousands of fighters.

Since taking command in Ukraine, the 60-year-old is thought to have masterminded a missile strike on Kramatorsk railway station in early April that killed 59 people including seven children as they tried to evacuate. 

Russian troops are currently battling Ukraine for control of Severdonetsk, one of the last remaining strongholds in the Luhansk region – which Putin intends to ‘liberate’.

The battle has been intensifying this week with heavy casualties on both sides, as dramatic videos showed a plume of orange smoke rising from the city yesterday as a tank of acid at a fertiliser factory was bombed.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Moscow of “madness” for striking the chemical plant, saying their commanders do not care about the risk of releasing toxic gases into the air.

The situation on the eastern frontline in Donbas has become increasingly desperate, with Ukrainian towns facing near constant shelling from Russian forces.

Destroyed Russian tanks are seen outside Kyiv as Putin’s army continued to take heavy losses amid fighting in the east

A steady flow of vehicles delivered some 1,350 people Monday through an eastern Ukrainian checkpoint towards Red Cross buses, desperate to flee the horrors of life in Russian-controlled territory.

The exhausted crowds, including women and children, crossed a dam cutting through a reservoir that serves as the demarcation line between Russian and Ukrainian troops.

“I can breathe more easily now,” Anna, a teacher who fled with her children aged 13 and 11, told AFP, as she crossed the checkpoint.

Tetyana, a 19-year-old student, said she was happy to back in her “native Ukraine” after three months of living in “the Russian world”.

French journalist Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff was killed while covering civilian evacuations in the Donbas on Monday.

And an overnight rocket attack left at least three people dead and six wounded in the city of Sloviansk, Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said Tuesday.

“There are no safe places in the Donetsk region, so I call again: evacuate – save your lives,” he said.

Four more civilians died and seven were injured in Donetsk on Tuesday, he added in a later Telegram post.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova said authorities had identified a “few thousand” cases of war crimes in the Donbas, including murder, torture and the forced displacement of children.

The key Zelensky aide, who met international counterparts in The Hague on Tuesday, said Kyiv was already going to prosecute 80 suspects for alleged war crimes on Ukrainian soil.

A Ukrainian court on Tuesday jailed two Russian soldiers for 11 and a half years for shelling two villages in the northeastern Kharkiv region. Earlier this month, another was jailed for life for murdering a civilian.

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