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Russia appoints new overall commander for its military in Ukraine

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) toasts with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev next to Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russian troops in Syria, after a ceremony to bestow state awards on military personnel who fought in Syria, at the Kremlin in Moscow on December 28, 2017. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / POOL / AFP) (Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Kirill Kudryavtsev | Afp | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Russia has appointed a new commander to lead all of its forces in Ukraine as the Kremlin’s war marches into its eighth month.

Sergei Surovikin, an Army general who also oversees Russia’s air force, previously led Russian forces in Syria. His new role will involve galvanizing Russian troops after a slew of setbacks, including heavy losses of troops and equipment, and the forfeiture of thousands of square miles of occupied territory.

Surovikin’s appointment comes on the heels of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to conscript hundreds of thousands of Russian men for the war. Putin’s order for approximately 300,000 Russians to join the fight in Ukraine is the first time since World War II that Moscow has drafted civilians into the military.

The Kremlin’s decision to impose a partial draft was triggered in part by a series of stunning Ukrainian advances in recent weeks.

Last week, Putin declared that four Ukrainian regions now belonged to Russia. The Russian leader cited referendums, widely viewed as rigged and illegal by Western governments, held in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine.

“The results are known, well known,” Putin said on Sept. 30. “There are four new regions of Russia,” referring to the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

On the heels of Putin’s address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he will submit an “accelerated” application for his country to join the NATO military alliance.

Equipped with an arsenal of Western weapons, Ukrainian forces have retaken vast swaths of territory that had been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the war. Their battlefield successes have dented the reputation of the Kremlin’s mighty war machine.

But as Ukraine fights to retake land one village at a time, the cost to civilians has been enormous.

So far, the U.N. estimates that Russia’s invasion has claimed more than 6,000 civilian lives and led to more than 8,600 injuries. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights adds that the death toll in Ukraine is likely higher.

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