Hello. It looks like youre using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best Tortoise experience possible, please make sure any blockers are switched off and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help, let us know at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.com

General Armageddon

General Armageddon

0:00

Vladimir Putin has appointed a man with a ruthless reputation to command his war in Ukraine. What does Sergei Surovikin tell us about the state of Russia’s invasion?

If you earn the nickname General Armageddon, it’s fair to say you’ve built quite the reputation… And Sergei Surovikin is notorious for his brutality.

Born in Siberia, he fought for the Soviet Union in their war against Afghanistan in the 1980s.

But it was in August 1991, in the dying months of the USSR, that he really made a name for himself.

“Mingling with the rush-hour traffic, Red Army armoured personnel carriers on the streets of Moscow this morning heading to the Kremlin. They first moved in at 4am, the first sign of the coup d’etat that removed Mikhail Gorbachev from power.”

Archive from The Discovery Channel

Protestors tried to launch a coup against Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, erecting barricades in Moscow ’s Red Square.

Sergei Surovikin, leading a military battalion at the time, ordered his division to drive through the barriers and  shoot at the protestors. 

Three people were killed, including one  who was crushed.

Like Russian president Vladimir Putin, who as a former KGB officer also had a front row seat to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sergei Surovikin was unable to stop it unravelling.

“Mark the date well: August 19th 1991, historians are likely to be analysing the events of this day for generations to come. Military leaders and the Soviet secret police have taken control of the government, and now Vice President, Gennady Yanayev is sitting in the President’s seat.”

ABC News, 1991

But in post-Soviet Russia, his myth has only grown. 

In 2004 a Russian  newspaper claimed that a colonel under Sergei Surovikin’s command killed himself moments after being disciplined by him. 

And in 2017, Sergei Surovikin was rewarded for his ruthlessness when Vladimir Putin chose him to spearhead Russia’s intervention in Syria.

“Aleppo was like Doomsday. I saw building’s collapse on the heads of their families – members of the family, children. By using the bunker buster bombs, these kinds of weapons are used for the basement… military basements. That weapon was used on the civilians to target the shelter for the civilians.”

Syrian White Helmet fighter speaking to AMC News

Under his command, innocent Syrians were killed in their thousands by cluster munitions, which are banned under international law.

“Russia has, we believe, committed war crimes in Syria by directly attacking civilian areas, residential areas, including medical facilities.”

Amnesty International

These are tactics that would horrify most people, but not Vladimir Putin who honoured him as a Hero of the Russian Federation. 

Russia’s Defense Ministry has boasted that Russian and Syrian Forces liberated over 98 per cent of the country under Sergei Surovokin.

And now Vladimir Putin wants him to bring the same ruthlessness to Ukraine. 

So what does his appointment tell us about the Kremlin’s war effort?

***

“It was one of the largest attacks across Ukraine since the beginning of the war. Dozens of Russian missiles struck civilian targets in multiple Ukrainian cities, including the capital, Kyiv, which suffered the worst bloodshed in months.”

PSBO News

It didn’t take long for Sergei Surovikin to deliver his calling card.

“Ukraine says that at least 14 people were killed and more than 100 wounded. Millions of others lost electricity.”

PSBO News

Days after he took command of the invasion, Russia launched a bombardment that was a statement of intent.

Prepare for Russia’s attacks to get more brutal, and more indiscriminate.

So in one respect, the appointment of Sergei Surovikin is about sending a message to Ukraine. Russia is doubling down. Vladimir Putin wants to test Ukraine’s will ahead of what could be a long, cold winter.

But Sergei Surovikin’s new role also allows Vladimir Putin to play to a crowd closer to home.

Recently Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya who is known as Putin’s attack dog, openly criticised the Russian war effort. 

But Sergei Surovikin’s promotion quickly won him round. 

Ramzan Kadyrov said he was satisfied with the military operation. One hundred per cent.

Yevgeny Prigozhin , founder of the mercenary Wagner Group and another ally of Vladimir Putin, also signalled his happiness, calling Sergei Surovokin the most competent commander in the Russian military. 

Vladimir Putin, who still thinks he can win this war,  will hope that his appointment does more than just please the right people at home.

But Russia’s issues on the battlefield are systemic: poor logistics, morale and equipment.

“The head of MI6 said today that he believes Russia is about to run out of steam in Ukraine.” 

Channel 4 News

Our assessment is that the Russians will increasingly find it difficult to supply manpower, material over the next few weeks. They will have to pause in some way.

Richard Moore, Head of MI6

And Ukraine’s air defences are holding out pretty strong. 

It claims that it shot down 63 of the 111 cruise missiles that Russia recently fired at cities across Ukraine.

Sergei Surovikin, with the blessing of Vladimir Putin, might want to treat Ukraine like he treated Syria.  

But he’s likely to find that’s much easier said than done.


This episode was written by Xavier Greenwood and mixed by Rebecca Moore


Further listening