If you do not know who Aleksandr Dvornikov is, you should do. He is the man turning around the war in the Ukraine for Russia, from chaotic disaster to slow but progressive success, and at this moment he is one of the most powerful and important men in Europe. He is currently the commander of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine, and you cannot hope to understand the present Russian military strategy in Ukraine without some understanding of this very complex, honest, correct, committed, serious and above all dangerous man.
Dvornikov was a Soviet military officer who progressed steadily up the ranks, showing steady competence all the way, until Russian President Vladimir Putin promoted him to General in 2012 in order to take a look at the Syrian Civil War, which was not going at the time as the Kremlin had planned it. He had gained his reputation during the Second Chechen War for turning around Russian military fortunes through strict discipline over Russian military personnel and planned, disciplined, ruthless military tactics that won the Second Chechen War for the Russians by way of flushing out insurgents through a policy of systematic destruction of urban areas that harboured militants. He brooked no quarter.
The reason why he did this is instrumental to understanding General Dvornikov's personality. He is absolutely committed as a man of integrity to defending the interests of the Russian Motherland. He has no time for corruption and war profiteering. The Russian Armed Forces, in his mind, exist to serve the national interest of the Russian Federation, and every resource should be used rationally and unsparingly to defeat the enemy who poses a threat to the Russian national interest.
If those people take advantage of civilians, using them as human shields, then very unfortunately a utilitarian calculus must be employed in which it is necessary that civilians, in calculated numbers, die as an inevitable consequence of war in order to uphold the Russian national interest. If one does not act immediately, decisively, ruthlessly and unrelentingly, determined to see the war through no matter what the cost, then still more people will die and the net result will be yet worse than a slow war of attrition.
These sentences capture the grim determination with which General Aleksandr Dvornikov approaches his mandate to uphold the Russian national interest.
Dvornikov was subsequently appointed by the President of the Russian Federation as Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces in Syria, because Vladimir Putin was so impressed by the common values of ruthless integrity, commitment to the Russian national interest, and willingness to work through the sclerotic Russian bureaucracy (that covers both Russian military and civilians) to achieve efficient and effective results in due time. Both men understand that the Russian system does not move quickly; but they are committed and skilled enough to use Russian personnel resources in the medium to long term, to achieve Russian military objectives as these may be necessary.
President Putin does not personally warm to General Dvornikov. He is a grave, emotionless, severe man who places his integrity and commitment to the Russian national interest above all else. But Mr Putin respects him for the seriousness with which he approaches his complex work. General Dvornikov won the war in Syria for Mr Putin, through shrewd strategic analysis, understanding of the precise capacities and limitations of the Russian Armed Forces, and a cruel lack of interest in the welfare of the Syrians, many of which were in the pay of Islamists or Americans, two of Russia's implacable enemies. General Dvornikov would do whatever necessary, for however long it was necessary, adjusting Russia's massive military production capacities and ensuring that his long term strategic military perspective was consistent with the speed with which weaponry that Russia could produce and deliver to theatre. He also understood the importance of logistics as do few other Russian military officials, establishing a new airbase in Syria to achieve aerial domination.
The Syrians who resisted this creeping and relentless development of Russian supply routes to frontline forces, gradually edging forward to dominate virtually all Syria, would be systematically eliminated as would their bases. Syria's second city, Aleppo, was razed on his watch pursuant to this model. That was the grim and determined calculus by which General Dvornikov undertook his Syrian mandate.
He won the war for Russia, laying waste to Syria as he did so because he considered that the mandates of total war required this. For his achievements he was awarded Russia's highest honours by the President of the Russian Federation, while the Americans nicknamed him the Butcher of Syria.
He thereafter retired; but in April 2022 Mr Putin, realising that his military commanders in Ukrainian theatre were incompetent and failing him, telephoned General Dvornikov and asked him to return to service, in the national interest.
Mr Putin, who privately admires men of powerful integrity with the greatest of respect, did not bribe or threaten General Dvornikov. He told him seriously that the performance of the Russian commanders in Ukrainian theatre was placing the Russian national interest in jeopardy; and the Motherland needed General Dvornikov to undertake one last military campaign. General Dvornikov, a man of principle and duty, could not refuse this personal request of the President of the Russian Federation, a man for whom he has mutual admiration if not personal warmth. So he agreed, and he will use all his skills to reorientate the prior failures of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine into a strategy of gradual, relentless domination of Ukrainian territory.
His strategy, of slow but steady sequential strangulation of itinerant Ukrainian cities until the Ukrainian Armed Forces members in each either surrender or die as the result of siege, suits the strengths and the weaknesses of the Russian Armed Forces (slow, lackadaisical, inefficient but with limitless back up capacity) impeccably. General Dvornikov knows the army he commands intimately, and he uses those forces to devastating effect notwithstanding their structural frailties.
General Dvornikov is Old School. And the Ukrainians are realising that his old-fashioned stepwise methods and determined straightforward ruthlessness, skills essential to win any war, are overwhelming. That is why they are panicking.
General Dvornikov may in due course earn the western moniker Butcher of Ukraine; but he cares not. His sole duty is to his Motherland, for which he will surely earn yet another prestigious award from the Russian President via which to enjoy the quiet pride of his second retirement.
General Dvornikov is a force to be reckoned with. He is a very dangerous man indeed. Although we may find his mentality in his approaches to war distasteful, we must begrudgingly accept that they are coldly logical. He represents the most ruthless and capable qualities in the Russian Armed Forces. We would be fools not to respect him.