White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday said Russia’s decision to appoint a general known for his brutality in Syria to lead the invasion of Ukraine is “consistent” with Moscow’s conduct during the ongoing conflict, as it enters its sixth week.
Reports surfaced this weekend that Gen. Aleksandr Dvornikov has been appointed to oversee Moscow’s effort in Ukraine. Dvornikov, who led Russia’s destruction in Syria, oversaw forces that were behind civilian abuses and were accused of carrying out crimes against humanity during the Syrian war, according to The Guardian.
Before Dvornikov’s leadership, the Russians did not have a war commander directing Moscow’s forces on the ground, The Associated Press noted.
Asked during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” if Dvornikov’s appointment signals that Ukraine should expect a type of “scorched Earth warfare” from Russia, Sullivan said the leadership change is an indication that Moscow will continue carrying out atrocities, war crimes and mass killings.
“I think it’s actually just consistent with the way that Russia has conducted this war from the beginning. We’ve seen scorched Earth warfare already,” Sullivan said. “We’ve seen atrocities and war crimes and mass killings and horrifying and shocking images from towns like Bucha and rocket attack on Kramatorsk. So, I think this is an indication that we will see more of that.”
During an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sullivan noted Dvornikov’s “resume that includes a brutality against civilians in other theaters, in Syria,” adding that the international community “can expect more of the same in this theater.”
He said Dvornikov will be “another author of crimes and brutality against Ukrainian civilians.”
“As you have noted, we have already seen it, and we can expect more of it,” Sullivan added.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki sounded a similar note, telling “Fox News Sunday” that Dvornikov’s appointment illustrates that there is “going to be a continuation of what we’ve already seen on the ground in Ukraine and that’s what we are expecting.”
Ukraine is indicating that it will not be deterred by Russia’s leadership change. Asked about Dvornikov’s appointment and if it signals that Russia is looking to draw out its conflict for months rather than years, considering the general’s history with targeting civilians, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Kyiv is confident it will “win this war.”
“Let’s go back to the very beginning of the war when Russia’s plan was to defeat the entire Ukraine in something like three days. And so now this plan failed, obviously. And now they have another plan. But we have our plans. And history will demonstrate whose plan will prevail,” Kuleba said.
“So whatever Russia is planning to do, we have our strategy and this strategy is based on the assumption, on the confidence that we will win this war and we will liberate our territories. Time is important, but we don’t calculate how much time it will take,” he added.
Retired Gen. David Petraeus, a former CIA director, however, warned that Dvornikov may employ strategies he set into motion in Syria, including “depopulating” areas.
He said he fears that the offensive under Dvornikov, who is known as “the butcher of Syria,” will become worse, more brutal and include increased targeting of civilians.
“The Russians were known in Syria basically for, quote, ‘depopulating’ areas. That’s what they did to Aleppo. That’s what they did to other areas. And I think we can expect that,” Petraeus said during an appearance on “State of the Union.”
He specifically pointed to a Russian rocket strike that hit a train station in the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk that was full of Ukrainian civilians trying to escape, noting that it was “the very first operation taken under him.” At least 52 people were killed dozens more were wounded in the strike.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) on Sunday labeled the attack a genocide during an interview with “State of the Union.”
Petraeus did, however, air a cautionary tone similar to that of Sullivan and Psaki, telling CNN that the international community “can expect more of what we have seen.”
“The hallmark of the Russian forces so far has been indiscipline, not discipline. It has been violation of the Geneva Convention and the law of land warfare and so forth. We have seen repeated evidence of that. And that’s what we’re going to see more of, I fear, in the days and weeks that lie ahead,” he said.
Despite Russia’s military leadership change and Moscow’s forces appearing to stay in the East, however, Sullivan emphasized on Sunday that the U.S. remains committed to helping Ukraine win the conflict and push Russia out of the region, regardless of what it may take.
“Our policy is unequivocal that we will do whatever we can to help Ukraine succeed,” Sullivan told NBC.
“But at the end of the day, what we want to see is a free and independent Ukraine, a weakened and isolated Russia, and a stronger, more unified, more determined West,” he added. “We believe that all three of those objectives are in sight, can be accomplished.”