Putin appoints new general to command Ukrainian war

In this pool photo taken on Thursday, March 17, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, poses with Col. Gen. Alexander Dvornikov during an awarding ceremony in Moscow's Kremlin, Russia . Dvornikov, who commanded the Russian military in Syria, said in an interview released Wednesday that Russia’s special forces have helped direct air raids in Syria and Russian military advisers have played a key role in the Syrian army’s offensive.(Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
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Russian President Vladimir Putin has appointed a new general to direct the war in Ukraine as his military shifts plans after a failure to take Kyiv, according to a US official and a European official.

The officials told CNN Army General Alexander Dvornikov, commander of Russia’s Southern Military District, has been named theater commander of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine

“It speaks to a Russian acknowledgement that it is going extremely badly and they need to do something differently,” the European official said.

A new theater commander with extensive combat experience could bring a level of coordination to an assault now expected to focus on the Donbas region, instead of multiple fronts.

Dvornikov, 60, was the first commander of Russia’s military operations in Syria, after Putin sent troops there in September 2015 to back the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. During Dvornikov’s command in Syria from September 2015 to June 2016, Russian aircraft backed the Assad regime and its allies as they laid siege to rebel-held eastern Aleppo, bombarding densely populated neighborhoods and causing major civilian casualties. The city fell to Syrian government forces in December 2016.

Russian forces have used a similarly heavy-handed approach in parts of Ukraine, striking residential buildings in major cities and demolishing much of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

“We will see how effective that proves to be,” the European official said. “The Russian doctrine, the Russian tactics remain pretty much as they’ve been since Afghanistan.”