New Past

Who is General Alexander Dvornikov? He is the new man in charge of Russian forces in Ukraine. Aleksandr Vladimirovich Dvornikov (Александр Владимирович Дворников; born 22 August 1961)

New Past

Who is General Alexander Dvornikov? He is the new man in charge of Russian forces in Ukraine. Aleksandr Vladimirovich Dvornikov (Александр Владимирович Дворников; born 22 August 1961)

ROSTOV-ON-DON REGION, RUSSIA – AUGUST 29, 2021: Col Gen Alexander Dvornikov, Commander of Russia’s Southern Military District, attends the Army 2021 International Military and Technical Forum, at the Sambek Heights, a WWII military and historical museum complex. Erik Romanenko/TASS,Image: 629346738, License: Rights-managed, Restrictions: , Model Release: no, Credit line: Profimedia

Dvornikov was born on 22 August 1961 in Ussuriysk. He graduated from the Ussuriysk Suvorov Militar School in 1978 and joined the Soviet Army. Dvornikov received further education at the Moscow High Command Training School, graduating in 1982. The school was formed on December 15, 1917, by order of Vladimir Lenin.

From 1982, he served in the Far Eastern Military District as a platoon and then company commander, and as battalion chief of staff. In 1991, Dvornikov graduated from the Frunze Military Academy. He became a deputy battalion commander in the Western Group of Forces. Dvornikov served in East Germany, leaving with the last Russian forces in 1994.

“Nothing stops him. He sticks to the old Soviet and then Russian approach – if there are forces, they have to be concentrated and used to destroy everything,” Lieutenant General Ihor Romanenko, the former deputy chief of Ukraine’s general staff of armed forces, said of Aleksandr Dvornikov.

My opening was a long lead-in to make a point. Allow me to reorient the thoughts around the notion of the Cold War “End of the History” narrative. I was there, in West Germany, Italy, and Berlin from 1980 through the end, so to speak. The End of History premise was flawed from the outset. The internal institutions supporting the autocracies masquerading as communism in Russia and China were largely intact after 1992. In disarray but functioning. There were many of us tasked with watching over eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Russia, who were stunned at the feverish race for a “peace dividend” from the Soviet Union’s collapse. We argued without defanging the internal institutions in Russia and containing China, that Cold War 2.0 was highly likely. Some argued pre-destined.

Our warnings were shouted down.

Instead, after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the United States politicians, diplomats, and academics fell head over heels in love with the “End of History” narrative. I get it. After the brutal blackeye received in Vietnam, we needed a win. Plus, at the time the beancounters in DOD armed with the Graham-Rudman balanced budget narrative were set to dismantle a bloated US military, one base at a time. The “End of History” narrative worked for the beltway crowd at cocktail parties and on capital hill plus we had a much-needed win.

Many of us, seeing the handwriting on the wall left our various services. The 1990s were going to be a period of hibernation for the old Soviet state and mark the dynamic rise of the Communist Chinese masquerading as red-blooded capitalists. I scratched my head at the contradictions and bit my tongue, I was a policy implementor, not a policymaker.

Please look at the two maps below. Take stock of where we were in 1988 and where we are now with our eastern friends. The colors on the map have changed but the context of oppression remains the same minus a handful of states smashed between the conflicting ideologies.

1988 – the year before the Berlin Wall fell. (
Today (

Please note the victories from round #1 of our pitched battle against autocracies. We had a few wins. The Soviet buffer states in Eastern Europe are largely free, but not all. Those states were never in the Soviet camp. What remains is a hideously large part of the globe suffering under autocracy in some form or fashion at odds with our way of life. The little light blue patch on the western flank of Russia, the nation of Ukraine, is now under siege. The ideological aggression won’t end there. Our frienemies are learning, adapting, and judging our resolve.

This is not a Cold War 2.0. This is the last ideological conflict unfinished. A “new past” is being thrust upon us. In this iteration, Russia and China have far better leadership than in the 1980s. A billion-plus Chinese no longer live in a third-world farming community. The Red Chinese are big, organized, wealthy, and arming themselves to the teeth.

An Atlantic Council article (11/4/2021) entitled “FAST THINKING: China’s stunning military buildup” makes my point. The arms race is just getting started. The US Defense Department’s annual report on the Chinese military, released Wednesday, revealed a chilling reality: The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could field one thousand nuclear warheads by 2030 along with the ability to deliver them.

I am a couple of months older than General Alexander Dvornikov. We share an overlapping history with vastly different ideological perspectives. He is Soviet military through and through. The Russian President’s move to bring the good General in to handle affairs in Ukraine should have set off major alarms bells inside the beltway, the intelligence community, and DOD. If not, you folks are truly lost.

Russian President Vladimir Putin poses for a picture with Alexander Dvornikov after he was awarded the title of Hero of the Russian Federation in Moscow, Russia March 17, 2016 [Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters]

One more piece of advice, please don’t dust off your old containment playbooks from my days. There are far too many omitted facts in the current telling of “Cold War containment” to make a solid applied history argument.

Until next time. Travel safe.