Russia's war will be led by a general with a reputation for attacking civilians
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Russia for the first time has named an overall commander for its war with Ukraine. His name is General Aleksandr Dvornikov. He's 60 years old and has been in charge of the most brutal fighting in Ukraine. NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, joined us earlier with more reporting on this general and what it means for the fight.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Mariupol is a southern city of some 400,000 that's been virtually destroyed under the general's watch. Also, the recent missile attack on a train station in the eastern Donbas region that led to at least 50 civilians dead and more than a hundred wounded - his responsibility, as well. And that's not surprising behavior for the general who, as we said, also led Russian forces in Syria. And they took part in some especially brutal targeting of civilians, hitting a number of hospitals, for example. So given his track record, look for this kind of horrific war aimed at civilians to continue as the fighting moves more to eastern Ukraine.
FADEL: So now that this general is in charge of the overall fight, should we expect the overall Russian war to change at all?
BOWMAN: Well, again, it's going to be a focus more on the east, where Russian troops are now regrouping and resupplying and will in the coming weeks head into that Donbas area. What they're going to try to do, Leila, is box in the Ukrainian army there, prevent them from moving elsewhere, resupplying. And there's a sense that the Russian troops will try to grab more of this Donbas area for better negotiating position when and if there are peace talks. And meanwhile, more weapons and armor are heading into Ukraine from NATO allies. So the expectation is a very tough and bloody fight that could determine how this war ends. But analysts say this could go on for many months or even longer. The Russians already, of course, have a foothold there with Russian separatists who have been fighting for some eight years now.
FADEL: Right. So up until this point, the Russians didn't have an overall commander in this war. Do we know why that is?
BOWMAN: You know, we don't. And defense analysts are puzzled why no overall commander was ever named. Instead, the Russians had a handful of separate military districts in Ukraine never seemingly coordinating. There is talk that Russian President Vladimir Putin kept the war planning to a small, tight-knit group. And clearly, there was little communication or planning.
FADEL: And, of course, the Russians haven't performed well. What is the Kremlin expecting General Dvornikov to do?
BOWMAN: Well, they expect him, again, to be much more brutal in the days and weeks ahead to somehow - you know, he can maybe make better use of command and control and so forth. But the problem is he can't create more units. Some of these combat units have lost up to 30% of their combat power. But look to him, as I said, to be more brutal with missiles. The Russians have a lot more missiles, as we saw in the attacks on Mariupol, in the train station. Look for them to use a lot of these missiles, again, to target civilian areas.
FADEL: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thank you, Tom.
BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.