It was in August, 2015, on the eve of the massive Russian military intervention in Syria, that President Vladimir Putin selected Col. Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, 54, as chief of Russia’s military operation in Syria and Iraq, debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report. He resolved a fierce debate among Russia’s top officials and generals over the officer to lead what was to be the most high-powered venture of the Putin presidency. Many favored a senior air force officer, conceiving the campaign as focusing mainly on air strikes. They proposed Col. Gen. Victor Nikolaevich Bondarev, chief of Aerospace Defense Forces, a branch established just four months ago.
Putin overruled them, having decided that the diplomatic and ground components were to be just as important as the future aerial campaign. He picked Gen Dvornikov, whom he first met 26 years ago in Berlin during the last moments of the dying Soviet empire. In 2015, he judged the general as being the right man for the job he had in mind, by virtue of his extensive military experience in running the 2000-2003 North Caucasus wars against Islamic terror groups, as chief of staff and a motorized infantry division commander.
In his new posting, Gen. Dvornikov was given control of the twin Russian commands in Damascus and Baghdad. They function as two halves of the same war room.
At the Damascus headquarters, he has three partners: the Syrian Chief of Staff Gen. Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Gen. Key Parvar and the commander of Hizballah forces in Syria, Mostafa Bader el-Din. Until his mysterious disappearance in November, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iranian commander in Syria and Iraq, would put in an occasional appearance at high command conferences.
The two command centers’ operations are fully coordinated and keep the single overall commander, Col. Gen. Dvornikov, on top of events and in control of decisions 24/7 – a key position of enormous authority and extreme diplomatic sensitivity for juggling Moscow's opposition allies and interests.
The Saudi government, which operates, arms and funds a number of Syrian rebel militias, regards the Russian general as the ultimate nemesis of its interests in Syria, because he expends as much force on fighting those militias as in striking the Islamic State.
After the Hizballah super terrorist Samir Quntar was assassinated on Dec. 20, the Saudis engineered a press leak showing how Gen. Dvornikov was turned away from the door of the Iranian command headquarters in Damascus when he came to offer condolences for the death of one of their top agents. The Iranians were furious with the Russian commander for allowing Israeli air planes free rein to fire rockets into Quntar’s secret hideout in Damascus.
That incident was an illustration of how the Russian general walks on eggs in a job that requires him to collaborate militarily with Iran and Hizballah, on the one hand, and uphold the understandings Putin reached with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, on the other, over Israeli Air Force actions against terrorists and their conflciting interests in the southern Syrian regions bordering on Israel.