Why Did Zelensky Fire the Ukranian Military Commander-In-Chief?


On February 8, Volodymyr Zelensky changed the leadership of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Since the first day of the invasion on February 24, 2022, Valery Zaluzhny has been an unchangeable Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The official statement appeared on the government website. 

Additionally, Zelensky announced his decision in a video message on the results of the 715th day of the war. “From today a new management team comes to the leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. I want the vision of the war to be united with our soldiers in Rabotino or Avdeevka, and in the General Staff and Stavka,” – said the President of Ukraine.

According to Zelensky, the commander-in-chief of the AFU, Colonel-General Alexander Syrsky, has been appointed to the post of commander-in-chief of the AFU. “I have had dozens of conversations with commanders of different levels. In particular, today I spoke with Brigadier Generals Andrei Gnatov, Mikhail Drapaty, Igor Skibyu, and Colonels Pavel Palisa and Vadim Sukharevsky. All of them are being considered for senior positions in the army and will serve under the leadership of the most experienced Ukrainian commander,” the Ukrainian leader added.

Before that, the president said, he met with the former AFU commander-in-chief Valeriy Zaluzhny and discussed with him what kind of renewal the armed forces needed, suggesting that the military officer “continue to be on the team.”

Zaluzhny himself also wrote about his meeting with Zelensky, saying that he had an “important and serious conversation” with the president. He said that “a decision was made about the need to change approaches and strategy.” In his post, he did not directly say whether he was talking about his resignation.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov said that Valeriy Zaluzhny “had one of the most difficult tasks – to lead the Armed Forces of Ukraine during the Great War with Russia” but “war does not remain the same” and “war changes and demands change.” “2024 will bring new changes for which we must be ready. New approaches, new strategies are needed. I am sincerely grateful to Valerii Fedorovych for all his achievements and victories,” he added.

Ukrainian media and politicians began writing about Zaluzhny’s possible resignation on January 29. As unofficially reported by various sources, on that day Zelensky held a meeting with the commander-in-chief, at which he offered Zaluzhny to resign, but the military officer refused to write a statement himself. 

On February 4, Zelensky confirmed in an interview with Italian Rai News 24 that he was “pondering” the possibility of replacing Zaluzhny and “a whole range of senior state officials, not only in a separate sector such as the military.” “This is a question of the people who will lead Ukraine. Certainly, a reset is needed, a new beginning,” Zelensky said.

What was the reaction of the West? 

Zelensky’s decision met a mixed reaction in the West. The Atlantic Council wrote an article titled “Removal of Ukraine’s ‘Iron General’ is one of Zelenskyy’s biggest gambles.” Zaluzhny was a well-known general in the West. He regularly met with NATO generals and EU officials as Ukranian soldiers were trained under NATO leadership. “The decision to change top military leadership during an enemy offensive poses risks, including disruption of operational planning”, commented The New York Times. 

The new commander of the AFU, according to the Ukrainian president, has “successful experience in defense.” In particular, the president noted, Syrskyy “conducted the Kyiv defense operation” and also had successful experience of the offensive in the “Kharkiv liberation operation.”

Alexander Syrsky was born in Russia – in the village of Novinki in the Vladimir region. He studied first at the Moscow Higher Combined Arms Command School and then at the National Defense Academy of Ukraine. Syrsky became commander of the AFU Ground Forces in August 2019.

As The Washington Post wrote, the 58-year-old Syrsky is not very popular among rank-and-file soldiers. Many of them consider him a “Soviet-style commander” who kept the troops under fire in Bakhmut for too long without agreeing to retreat.

Syrsky himself has not yet commented on his appointment. The further fate of Zaluzhny is also unknown. “I offered General Zaluzhny to be further together in the team of the Ukrainian state. I will be grateful for his consent,” wrote Zelensky. Zaluzhny did not make public statements after that.

On February 22, during his interview for FoxNews, Zelensky said that the change, in particular of the AFU commander-in-chief, was related to the reset of the military command. The Ukrainian head of state emphasized that Ukrainians should be quicker, missing the existing bureaucracy, as “we have no other chance.”

Photo: president.gov.ua

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