Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, recently took an unexpected step amid the ongoing conflict with Russia. He dismissed the country’s military Top Commander, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and appointed Colonel Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi in his place.
The decision to replace Gen. Zaluzhnyi came after months of tension between the President and the commander over strategic matters. Ukraine’s counteroffensive had failed against Russian-backed separatists. As a result, Ukraine faced renewed Russian attacks, shortages of soldiers and ammunition, and delays in US aid.
The decision for dismissal was aimed at fostering more vital leadership despite the challenges. Before the dismissal, Zelensky met with Zaluzhnyi and “discussed what kind of renewal the Armed Forces of Ukraine need.”
In a social media post, the President had declared his decision to “renew the leadership.” He stated, “The tasks of 2022 are different from those of 2024. Therefore, everyone must change and adapt to the new realities as well. We have just met with the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. It was an important and serious conversation. It was decided that we need to change our approaches and strategy.”
Zelenskyy appointed Zaluzhnyi as army chief in July 2021 but offered him a new role recently, which Zaluzhnyi declined. It’s uncertain if Zaluzhnyi will stay connected to the military in any way. Their disagreements had been brewing for months, especially after Zaluzhnyi said the war with Russia had hit a deadlock.
Zelenskyy publicly disagreed with Zaluzhnyi’s statement to The Economist magazine in November. He rebuked him for suggesting that the war had reached a dead end and insisted it was ongoing. This showed a difference in perspectives between the two leaders on the current state of the conflict.
Recently, the leaders clashed over the need for a mass mobilization effort in Ukraine. The army chief proposed drafting up to half a million individuals, but Zelenskyy opposed this idea. In a press conference in December, the President called mobilization a “susceptible” issue.
He suggested that he wanted to hear more arguments in favor before fully supporting it. “This is a very serious number,” he stated. “It is a question about people, justice, and defense capabilities. It is also a financial question.”
On the other hand, Zaluzhnyi openly expressed his frustrations regarding the workforce levels of Ukraine’s armed forces. He highlighted “the inability of state institutions in Ukraine to improve the manpower levels of our armed forces without using unpopular measures.”
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, allies feared Kyiv would quickly fall, followed by the rest of the country. However, under Zaluzhnyi’s leadership, Ukrainian troops successfully repelled Moscow’s forces from the capital. They later reclaimed some portions of the southern and eastern territories occupied by Russia in the early stages of the conflict.
In response to Russia’s’ invasion, Ukraine launched a counteroffensive to push southward toward the Sea of Azov. The plan was to divide Russia’s forces and sever its land bridge to Crimea. With this move, they weaken Russia’s hold on Ukrainian territory. This plan was initiated under the leadership of Zaluzhnyi.
Many have criticized Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal. “You do not dismiss the Commander-in-Chief in the middle of a war. Nothing good will come of it. It is playing into the hands of the Russians,” a frontline commander told CNN. Only time will tell if his dismissal was a political gamble for Zelensky.
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