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A Donbass native, a suspected arms dealer, an owner of a $2 million apartment: who are the commanders of Russian troops in Ukraine?

Despite the fact that the names of Russian generals have been gaining popularity primarily due to reports on those killed in action in Ukraine, little was known until recently about the chief commanders of Russian troops who came to “denacify” a country that was once a fraternal one. According to Conflict Intelligence Team analysts, the Russian troops in Ukraine are now commanded by Deputy Defense Minister Gennady Zhidko, who previously headed the troops of the Eastern Military District. This was confirmed by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). Information about another two commanders was disclosed by the Russian Defense Ministry itself: according to the ministry, the Central Group of Forces is now led by Colonel General Alexander Lapin, and the Southern Military District is headed by Army General Sergei Surovikin. The Insider reviews the known facts about the new top commanders of Russian troops in the Ukrainian war.

Gennady Zhidko, commander of «Special Operation»

Colonel General Gennady Zhidko, who is now in charge of Russian troops in Ukraine, served as Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, commander of the troops of the Eastern Military District, and participated in the military operation in Syria. In November 2021, he was appointed Russian Deputy Defense Minister for Military and Political Work. In this position, Zhidko is required, among other things, to conduct “counterpropaganda to protect personnel from negative information and psychological influence” and to “prevent deviant behavior.” In early June, CIT learned that “the entire operation in Donbass” is now commanded by Zhidko. As CIT founder Ruslan Leviev notes, officers coming from the Eastern Military District, which has the most manpower and is the most combat-ready, are assigned more privileged positions: they are sent to the most important areas to ensure better results.

In June, the investigators with the publication Metla (Broomstick) discovered that Gennady Zhidko owns an apartment in Moscow's Khamovniki district worth $2 million.


Sergei Surovikin, commander of the troops of the Southern Military District

Sergey Surovikin, General of the Army of the Russian Federation, personally led an armored column that crushed people during the putsch in August 1991 by resolution of the State Committee on the State of Emergency (GKChP). Three defenders of the White House were killed: Vladimir Usov, Dmitry Komar, and Ilya Krichevsky. According to the official version, in the tunnel under Novy Arbat, “the column was stopped by the crowd, and the road was barricaded. Surovikin addressed the crowd with warnings ... demanded to let the column pass and fired two warning shots upwards from his service weapon. Surovikin and part of the column broke through the barricade and left the scene of the conflict, and as the crowd continued to attack the remaining combat vehicles three young men were killed,” says Alexander Cherkasov, a board member of the Memorial Human Rights Defense Center, reporting for Novaya Gazeta. Europe. According to RIA Novosti, Surovikin ended up in the Matrosskaya Tishina pre-trial detention center, but Boris Yeltsin personally ordered Surovikin's release.

In 1995 Surovikin was convicted of several crimes at once: aiding and abetting, purchasing and selling, and carrying firearms and ammunition without a permit. These articles of the Criminal Code provided for up to eight years in prison, but, as Radio Liberty notes, the sentence was a humane one - one year's suspended. Proekt journalists write: “Later, when the investigators found out that the officer had been framed, the charges were dropped, and his convictions were expunged.” Proekt reported that in March of 2004, Lieutenant Colonel Tsibizov accused Major General Surovikin of having beaten a division commander for political reasons. Tsibizov later retracted his allegation.

In 2014, as commander of troops of the Eastern Military District, as alleged by Navalny's chief of staff Leonid Volkov, Sergey Surovikin worked in the Rostov Region, where he supervised the dispatch of tank units to southeastern Ukraine.

In 2017, Putin appointed Surovikin commander of the Aerospace Forces. Twice during this period he was sent to Syria, where he spent more than a year in total.

In June 2022 the news came that Surovikin now commands the Southern Group of Forces in Ukraine: the Defense Ministry wrote about it, stating that under Surovikin's command the group “completed the defeat of the encircled group of the AFU in Zolotoye-Gorskoye.” He succeeded Alexander Dvornikov in that post.


Aleksandr Lapin, commander of the Central Group of Forces

Little is known about Colonel General Alexander Lapin: he held all command positions, headed the Combined Arms Academy of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, and since 2017 he has been commander of the troops of the Central Military District.

In 2013, in an interview with Novaya Gazeta, he spoke about the war as follows: “War is inevitable. It was, it is, and it will be. It is a misfortune, a cross our civilization has to bear. But when you think about life and death, creation and destruction, you find interconnections in all of this. This is what war is. It clears away the accumulated evil, it allows you to destroy the old and build the new. But you can only know its meaning, its power and significance when you realize that the lives sacrificed to it were not in vain.”

Unlike Surovikin and Zhidko, Colonel General Alexander Lapin was repeatedly mentioned in the Ministry of Defense reports about the war in Ukraine: he appeared as a general handing “state decorations to servicemen who showed courage and heroism during the special military operation.” The BBC Russian service found out that Lapin also decorated his son Denis Lapin, a lieutenant colonel who commanded the regiment that attacked Chernihiv and Sumy. It is clear from the wiretapped conversations published by the Ukrainian intelligence that the regiment had suffered serious losses, but its commander Lapin Jr. was still decorated.

On June 24, the Ministry of Defense reported that under Lapin's command, formations and military units of the Central Group of Forces blockaded Lysychansk from the south.

It was Lapin's deputy, Rustam Minnekaev, who spoke of the goal of the “second stage” of the invasion of Ukraine: in his words, it was “full control of Donbass and southern Ukraine, a land corridor to Crimea and another exit to Transnistria.”


Mikhail Teplinsky, commander of the Airborne Forces

Colonel General Mikhail Teplinsky was born where he is now fighting - in the Donetsk region. After high school he immediately enrolled in the Airborne Forces military school. He participated in the armed conflict in Transnistria and in the First and Second Chechen wars. Proekt reports that during the first Chechen war, from December 1994 to March 1995, Senior Lieutenant Teplinsky killed nearly 30 killed guerrilla fighters setting his personal combat record. He also participated in the war in Syria.

The American Institute for War Studies (ISW) reported in mid-June, with reference to the head of the Odessa OVA Sergei Bratchuk, that Mikhail Teplinsky, chief of staff of the Central Military District, had replaced Airborne Commander Andrei Serdyukov. ISW stressed that it could neither confirm nor deny Bratchuk's statement. “If true, it indicates that Serdyukov is responsible for the poor performance and heavy losses among Russian airborne units, especially in the early operations near Kyiv. Continuing dismissals and possible internal purges of high-ranking Russian officers are likely to further undermine the weak capabilities of the Russian command and the confidence of Russian officers,” ISW wrote. There has been no other confirmation yet of the information that Teplinsky will command the Airborne Forces.

US military expert Rob Lee believes that units of the Western and Eastern Districts in Ukraine may also be under the command of either Lapin or Surovikin. According to Rob Lee, the commander of the Western Military District, Alexander Zhuravlev, and his chief of staff have been dismissed, while the commander of the Eastern Military District, Alexander Chaiko, has returned to Syria. According to Rob Lee, the decision to replace Serdyukov was made when he failed to capture Kyiv.

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