December 9, 2023

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

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Sergei Surovikin, an army general who also oversees Russia’s air force, previously led the Russian army in Syria. His new role would include motivating Russian troops after several setbacks, including heavy losses of troops and equipment and the seizure of thousands of square miles of occupied territory.

Surovikin’s appointment follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan to hire hundreds of thousands of Russian men for war. Putin’s order for nearly 300,000 Russians to join fighting in Ukraine is the first time since World War II that Moscow has enlisted civilians in the military.

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

Last week, Putin announced that four Ukrainian territories now belong to Russia. The Russian leader cited the referendum, widely held in Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine by Western governments, as rigged and illegal.

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

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said after Putin’s address that he would submit an “expedited” application for his country to join the NATO military alliance.

Armed with an arsenal of Western weapons, Ukrainian forces have retaken vast areas of territory occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the war. His battlefield successes have tarnished the reputation of the Kremlin’s mighty war machine.

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But as Ukraine struggles to capture land one village at a time, civilians have paid a heavy price.

So far, the United Nations estimates that Russia’s invasion has claimed the lives of more than 6,000 civilians and injured more than 8,600. The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says the death toll in Ukraine is likely to be higher.