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Replacing Ukraine's popular army chief is big gamble for Zelenskyy

29 Comments
By Pavel Polityuk and Tom Balmforth
Former UAF Commander in Chief Zaluzhnyi sings a national anthem during an award ceremony in Kyiv
Former Commander in Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi sings the national anthem during an award ceremony in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 9. Photo: Reuters/UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SER

The sweeping military shakeup that replaced Ukraine's popular army chief this week throws up big political and military risks for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as the war with Russia heads towards its third year.

Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, who led Ukraine's war effort through the darkest days of the full-scale invasion, was replaced on Feb 8 by ground forces commander Oleksandr Syrskyi, who is expected to present a new military team in the coming days.

The shakeup comes as Kyiv faces ammunition shortages and uncertainty over the future of U.S. military aid, which has been on hold for months due to Republican opposition, even as Russian forces begin to gain the upper hand on the battlefield.

"This is a risky decision, first of all, because the changes that are to take place are happening in an extremely complex environment and this may complicate the management of the troops," Serhiy Zgurets, director of the Kyiv-based Defense Express consultancy, told Reuters.

Though Syrskyi and Zaluzhnyi have the same approaches, the new chief's top military team has not been disclosed in full, so there could be a disruption in the management of troops in the short-term, Zgurets said.

That sense of uncertainty comes as Russian troops are tightening their grip around the embattled town of Avdiivka where Ukrainian troops are dug in. Elsewhere on the eastern front, Moscow's troops are building offensive pressure.

Ukraine has also been struggling to overhaul how it mobilizes civilians into the army as it tries to regenerate manpower after its much-vaunted counteroffensive proved unable to break through Russian lines last year.

The shakeup followed months of speculation about a rift between Zaluzhnyi and the president that burst into the open late last year when the general talked of a frontline "stalemate" in interview remarks that drew a rebuke from Zelenskyy's office.

As he announced the changes on Thursday, Zelenskyy said there was no politics at play in the move and that he felt a broad renewal was needed in the armed forces after the setbacks for Ukraine's ground operations in 2023.

Volodymyr Fesenko, a Kyiv-based political analyst, predicted the removal of Zaluzhnyi would hurt Zelenskyy's ratings because of the general's broad popularity.

Zaluzhnyi's stock soared during the first two years of the war. An opinion poll in December showed he had a significantly larger share of the public's trust than Zelenskyy himself.

Zaluzhnyi's image has been spray-painted on walls around the country to mark Ukrainian battlefield victories, and after Thursday's announcement that he was out of the top military post, messages of support for him flooded social media.

"There are a lot of dissatisfied people and the degree of emotions is quite high. Theoretically some protests are possible, but most likely it will not happen, taking into account the factor of war," Fesenko told Reuters.

The full-scale invasion that began on Feb 24, 2022, prompted Ukraine to introduce martial law, which rules out the possibility of holding elections. Presidential elections were due to take place next month, but with the war raging on it is unclear when they will take place.

Fesenko said that by removing Zaluzhnyi, Zelenskyy had essentially made the general a potential rival at future elections. He predicted that a broad political coalition would start to form around him.

Zgurets said any failures at the front, though caused by long-standing factors such as the ammunition shortage or troop fatigue, could come to be blamed on Syrskyi.

That in turn could open up the way for the criticism of the shakeup as "irrational and wrong", he said.

Following the announcement, passers-by in central Kyiv openly questioned the appointment and voiced skepticism.

"The president probably has a better view of the situation but I want to say that horses should not be changed mid-race," said Oleksandr Kalinichev, a doctor.

© Thomson Reuters 2024.

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

29 Comments
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It's a war. Big risks have to be taken now that the US has surrendered.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Zgurets said any failures at the front, though caused by long-standing factors such as the ammunition shortage or troop fatigue, could come to be blamed on Syrskyi.

I see, so Syrskyi is the fall guy they put it to take the blame and Russian forces continue to expel Zelensky's tired fighters out of Donetsk.

Syrskyi's nickname among Ukrainian troops is General 200, because 200 is the military code for KIA.

Syrskyi has a reputation for ordering men to die in pointless battles because Zelensky's afraid of bad headlines in Western media if a tactical withdraw is ordered, like should have been done in Bakmut.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

quote: struggling to overhaul how it mobilizes civilians into the army.

They don't want to be cannon fodder in a trench fighting over an acre of mud, WWI style? Understandable. Target Putin's regime directly instead and end this quickly with minimal death and destruction. Target the leaders. It is the only ethical way to fight a war.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

That, or make it logistically impossible for the Russians to be in the occupied territory by taking out all transportation, fuel infrastructure, etc.

quote: struggling to overhaul how it mobilizes civilians into the army.

They don't want to be cannon fodder in a trench fighting over an acre of mud, WWI style? Understandable. Target Putin's regime directly instead and end this quickly with minimal death and destruction. Target the leaders. It is the only ethical way to fight a war.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I watched an hour long interview with a high ranking member of the Ukrainian foreign legion yesterday. I highly recommend it to anyone who really wants to understand the Zelenskyy v Zaluzhnyi battle, Ukrainian corruption and future operations. Not much good news for the pro Ukraine crowd and this guy is as pro Ukraine as they come. Changing the captain on the Titanic as was going down would not have made a difference. Syrskyi is not going to change the outcome apart from casualty rates already at 3000 per month.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Zelensky is fearful that Zaluzhnyi’s popularity will result in Zelensky’s ouster. This is from the same president who suspended elections in order to preserve democracy. Zaluzhnyi has exercised caution, not wasting lives in strategically useless heroic stands. Syrskyi is a Russian-speaking general who doesn’t bat at eye at sending other men to their deaths.

This change will not work out well for Zelensky.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Zelensky knew General Zaluzhnyi viewed war as an unwinnable war of attrition, stalemate at best, leading to a failed Ukraine state.

General Z. thus opposed further troop mobilization and likely influenced Ukraine's Parliament to not authorize.

Zelensky wants new head General, who's not nearly so popular with soldiers or in general, to help revitalize troop mobilization efforts within Parliament. Zelensky is trying to keep hands clean, outsource mobilization issue.

Let's see how it plays out, clearly Ukraine's running out of military capacity, domestic and foreign support. Dark days indeed, why NATO has amassed about 100K troops on their western border for 'training'.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Clear Ukraine's many internal issues, stem from failures on the battlefield. Otherwise, Zelensky or any leader with military success would never face all this domestic strife that's spilling over to their international supporters.

Laughable, 2024 strategy of 're-build' for UA?

Ukraine's being depopulated & destroyed daily, nothing being rebuilt, only economic collapse & military failure, as people flee abroad for safety. It's also clear Ukraine's foreign support waning fast, Trump's not joking etc.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Ukraine's being depopulated & destroyed daily, nothing being rebuilt, only economic collapse & military failure, as people flee abroad for safety. It's also clear Ukraine's foreign support waning fast, Trump's not joking etc

Can I ask what your sources are?

It’s just after you posted Yugoslavia that broke up into 3 distinct countries I became a bit concerned that you aren’t reading or watching accurate material.

Thanks in advance.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Yugoslavia that

that Yugoslavia

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Ukraine internal political pressure will grow, General Z will likely play the PIVOTAL Role in pressing for peace negotiations. As most citizens in Ukraine realize their 10year Civil War's effectively over now and do not want:

1) Former Russian Speaking Ukrainians that are now legal Russia citizens to become Ukrainian ever again

2) Continue fighting Russia with no clear objective, other than more death and destruction

3) Pres. Zelensky involved in peace talks with Russia

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

It was always going to be this way, Ukraine's foreign support would dry up, because it's all conditioned upon success AND collateral damage. Clearly no success on the battlefield. Collateral damage's growing:

1) Domestic Ukraine support for war & leadership falling

2) Foreign support for war falling

3) Foreign leadership political support falling

4) Mid-East and Far-East geopolitical risks rising

5) Critical shortages of missiles growing in west

6) Critical shortages of other munitions growing in west

8) Russia becoming stronger politically & economically

9) Russia military advantage vs. Ukraine growing

10) Rusia becoming stronger geopolitically

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

mikeylikesitToday 12:16 pm JST

Zelensky is fearful that Zaluzhnyi’s popularity will result in Zelensky’s ouster. This is from the same president who suspended elections in order to preserve democracy.

This but unironically. There is no money or safety to hold an election and it isn't wanted by the people right now.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

HopeSpringsEternalToday 03:30 pm JST

Ukraine internal political pressure will grow, General Z will likely play the PIVOTAL Role in pressing for peace negotiations. As most citizens in Ukraine realize their 10year Civil War's effectively over now and do not want:

1) Former Russian Speaking Ukrainians that are now legal Russia citizens to become Ukrainian ever again

2) Continue fighting Russia with no clear objective, other than more death and destruction

3) Pres. Zelensky involved in peace talks with Russia

You need to try some surrender negotiations of your own country first.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

HopeSpringsEternalToday 03:56 pm JST

8) Russia becoming stronger politically & economically

10) Rusia becoming stronger geopolitically

Don't forget the Baltic Sea becoming a NATO lake, Russia indebted to China indefinitely, a generation of Russians lost, generations of Ukrainians raised to hate Russia, and Russia's military being exposed as a paper tiger.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Don't forget Baltic Sea becoming a NATO lake, Russia indebted to China indefinitely, a generation of Russians lost, generations of Ukrainians raised to hate Russia, and Russia's military being exposed as a paper tiger.

None of above if assumed true, BIG stretch of imagination, relates to Ukraine's direct interests. Russia official population of citizens, millions more than pre-Crimea, most analysts put number at b/w 8-10M.

Above objectives even if accomplished do not directly benefit Ukraine. Ukraine pays ultimate price, death and destruction, for no clear benefit, hardly compelling.

There is no conventional risk to NATO or Russia, because 'real' war will be non-conventional, making this whole matter of NATO expansion irrelevant. This is why Ukraine funding is drying up.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Important to understand, Ukraine tension with Russia, fueled by west since fall of USSR, resulted in Ukraine's population being roughly half today what it was in 1990.

People have been fleeing Ukraine for decades due to this tension. That's core political issue in this region, resolving this tension thru neutrality, rather than US led NATO expansion and globalist's greed agenda.

Believe this General Z. will thus seek sustainable durable lasting peace with Russia, as post USSR has been a total nightmare for Ukraine, so much so half its population has already left for greener pastures.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

HopeSpringsEternalToday 04:43 pm JST

None of above if assumed true

Nothing to assume about it: all of the above are absolutely devastating to Russia. Meanwhile the US doesn't even notice that Russia can no longer trade with it.

There is no conventional risk to NATO or Russia, because 'real' war will be non-conventional, making this whole matter of NATO expansion irrelevant. This is why Ukraine funding is drying up.

That's why it is also important that Sweden and Finland are wealthy and educated countries, unlike war torn Crimea and Donbas.

Important to understand, Ukraine tension with Russia, fueled by west since fall of USSR, resulted in Ukraine's population being roughly half today what it was in 1990.

People have been fleeing Ukraine for decades due to this tension. That's core political issue in this region, resolving this tension thru neutrality, rather than US led NATO expansion and globalist's greed agenda.

No, it is about about 4/5 what it was in 1990.

Believe this General Z. will thus seek sustainable durable lasting peace with Russia, as post USSR has been a total nightmare for Ukraine, so much so half its population has already left for greener pastures.

Your new hero, Zaluzhnyi, isn't in a position to surrender and he won't be in a position to surrender. And Ukraine was turning a corner before Putin's illegal and immoral war.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Hatred of Russia by some does nothing to change the reality, The Donbas has no strategic value or importance.

World increasingly realizes, whether the Donbas was Ukrainian or is now Russian, has no strategic relevance. Fact that they're now Russian citizens matters not.

Furthermore, getting the Donbas back in Ukrainian hands is impossible as 10years of civil war's made it clear nobody living there's ever willing to go back to Ukraine.

Translation? Current war has no endgame or benefit, just more massive direct & indirect costs to Ukraine & World.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

If some in Europe want to fund this fight over the Donbas, that's their prerogative, but it's clear the political reality is making this more difficult, both Inside Ukraine and Within Europe.

US NATO proxy war's collapsing from within, both inside Ukraine with their troop mobilization failure and with their many foreign supporters, as Russia continues to strengthen its position.

Nobody in Ukraine thinks fighting for fighting sake with no hope of winning makes sense, even if western politicians prefer that they continue to throw their lives away.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

If anyone think US Congress is going to cut another blank check to Ukraine, you're probably not reading the tea leaves very well!

War often becomes dangerous addiction, and such is the case in Ukraine today with their present leadership.

There's just no case for Ukraine to continue to pursue a total failed state and put entire world in greater risk in the process, ALL over the Donbass territory.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

HopeSpringsEternalFeb. 11 06:06 pm JST

Hatred of Russia by some does nothing to change the reality, The Donbas has no strategic value or importance.

World increasingly realizes, whether the Donbas was Ukrainian or is now Russian, has no strategic relevance. Fact that they're now Russian citizens matters not.

Then Russia wouldn't be there and you wouldn't be telling us about BRICS ascendant ever day, would it?

Furthermore, getting the Donbas back in Ukrainian hands is impossible as 10years of civil war's made it clear nobody living there's ever willing to go back to Ukraine.

Then it is important that not one more inch be given to the fascist if it is going to end up in the Russian federation.

Translation? Current war has no endgame or benefit, just more massive direct & indirect costs to Ukraine & World.

Translation? Ukraine's existence and US credibility is on the line.

If some in Europe want to fund this fight over the Donbas, that's their prerogative, but it's clear the political reality is making this more difficult, both Inside Ukraine and Within Europe. US NATO proxy war's collapsing from within, both inside Ukraine with their troop mobilization failure and with their many foreign supporters, as Russia continues to strengthen its position.

Still Putin's War

Nobody in Ukraine thinks fighting for fighting sake with no hope of winning makes sense, even if western politicians prefer that they continue to throw their lives away.

You don't know what Ukrainians want. You want them enslaved to Moscow!!!

If anyone think US Congress is going to cut another blank check to Ukraine, you're probably not reading the tea leaves very well!

Depends, there are as yet some patriots in the Republican party that haven't fully jumped on the MAGA surrender bandwagon.

War often becomes dangerous addiction, and such is the case in Ukraine today with their present leadership.

Staying alive is not being addicted.

There's just no case for Ukraine to continue to pursue a total failed state and put entire world in greater risk in the process, ALL over the Donbass territory.

Ukraine's not a failed state yet despite your hopes and dreams.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Judging by the photo Ukrainians think the heart is on the left - a common misunderstanding.

Human anatomy isn't difficult to learn

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Ukraine's not a failed state yet despite your hopes and dreams.

Your comments certainly are tho ! And everyday insulting to someone on here

I suggest stop commenting relentlessly on a Japanese site daily unless you actually live in Japan as the majority of us do.

Try commenting on an American site instead.

as it's a bit pathetic to constantly challenge others and think you can't be held accountable.

Stop commenting here !

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Judging by the photo Ukrainians think the heart is on the left - a common misunderstanding

Eh?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Judging by the photo Ukrainians think the heart is on the left

And where do you think the heart is?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Syrskyi is a classic "yes man" for Zelensky.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Zaluzhnyi's image has been spray-painted on walls around the country to mark Ukrainian battlefield victories, and after Thursday's announcement that he was out of the top military post, messages of support for him flooded social media.

Seems this guy is really smart and capable.

And this could be his greatest personal achievement yet getting himself removed at this critical juncture

0 ( +0 / -0 )

without loss of prestige

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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