A Russian General, identified in a CNN investigation as responsible for targeting civilians in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv and his role as the architect of the siege of Aleppo, was involved in high-level defense talks with his UK counterpart in 2017 after receiving Russia’s highest military honor for his role in its war in Syria.
Col-General Alexander Zhuravlyov, in his capacity as then Deputy Chief of General Staff, met with the UK’s then Vice Chief of Defence Staff General Messenger for high-level talks, during a trip to Moscow in 2017 in what was characterized by the UK’s Ministry of Defence as “military to military dialogue.” Zhuravlyov discussed with Messenger “a restart of military interaction,” Russian state news agency TASS reported on February 28, 2017, quoting Russia’s Ministry of Defense.
CNN’s investigation found that Zhuravlyov’s leadership in 2016 catalyzed the assault on eastern Aleppo. After he took the reins, the Russian military rapidly ramped up its attacks on the rebel-held territory and completed the siege of the densely populated city, exacting a large death toll and setting the wheels in motion for a tactic that has defined Russia’s intervention in Syria: besiege, starve, bombard and grind into submission.
His period of command also saw a dramatic increase in documented cluster munition attacks in Aleppo.
European intelligence agency analysts who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity said the pattern of Zhuravlyov’s behavior in Syria and Ukraine is the same, subjugating cities through terror. “Zhuravlyov was brought in with the purpose of bringing about a swift capitulation of Aleppo. He did that using much of the same methodology we see in Ukraine. Ordering the indiscriminate use of cluster munitions against dense civilian infrastructure and populations,” the analyst said.
Syrian human rights activists have long called for Russia’s General to be held accountable, and a leading UK human rights lawyer at the law firm Payne Hicks Beach, Matthew Ingham, told CNN: “Colonel General Alexander Zhuravlyov should have been sanctioned for his actions in Syria” adding, “It is a shame that there was not a stronger response to alleged war crimes at that stage, because that may have affected Putin’s Ukrainian strategic calculations from the outset.
Neither the US nor the UK have taken public action against Zhuravlyov or other key Russian generals implicated in war crimes. The US State Department wouldn’t comment on the specific findings of CNN’s investigation but said they continued to track and assess war crimes and reports of ongoing violence and abuses.
In a statement to CNN, the UK Ministry of Defense said a previous statement issued in 2017 “made it clear” that they supported military to military dialogue to minimize risk and miscalculation
“We stand by that principle, which is why we gave Russia every opportunity to engage in dialogue this year over Ukraine before they launched their reprehensible and unprovoked invasion,” an MOD spokesperson said.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report