Zelensky sacks Ukraine’s commander-in-chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi


Ukraine’s president has sacked the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi.

It follows speculation about a rift between the president and Gen Zaluzhnyi, who has led Ukraine’s war effort since the conflict began.

General Oleksandr Syrskyi was announced as his replacement in a presidential decree.

The move marks the biggest change to Ukraine’s military leadership since Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

Mr Zelensky said the high command needed to be “renewed” and that Gen Zaluzhnyi could “remain on the team”.

“Starting today, a new management team will take over the leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” he said on Thursday.

The president said he and Gen Zaluzhnyi had a “frank conversation” about the changes needed in the army, and that he thanked the general for defending Ukraine from Russia.

Mr Zelensky said the new army chief, Gen Syrskyi, has experience of both defensive and offensive warfare.

The general led the defence of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, at the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022.

He was the mastermind behind Ukraine’s surprise and successful counter-attack in Kharkiv that summer and has since been serving as the head of military operations in eastern Ukraine – one of the two main axes in Ukraine’s counter-offensive.

“We must make this year a crucial one,” Mr Zelensky said.

“Crucial for achieving Ukraine’s goals in the war. Russia cannot simply accept the existence of an independent Ukraine – the very fact of our country’s independent life.”

He said his “renewal” of the army’s leadership was “not about surnames” or politics, but rather the management of Ukraine’s armed forces and the experience of battlefield commanders.

“The army’s actions must become much more technologically advanced. The generalship must be reset,” he added.

Mr Zelensky said he expected a detailed plan for the armed forces this year, taking into account the reality of the war with Russia. He said there needed to be a different approach to frontline management, mobilisation and recruitment.

Ukrainian MP Mykhailo Podolyak, who is the adviser to the head of the president’s office, said the move was needed to revise the tactics used in Ukraine’s counter-offensive last year.

He echoed Mr Zelensky’s comments about the need to prevent stagnation on the frontline and to find high-tech solutions.

But there has been mixed reaction so far to the announcement, with opposition MPs the first to criticise the shake-up.

Kyiv’s mayor Vitali Klitschko thanked Gen Zaluzhnyi for his service to Ukraine, adding that he hoped the authorities would justify the changes.

Oleksii Honcharenko, from the Ukrainian opposition party Poroshenko, said the move was “a huge mistake” by the president. He said it would carry risks for the country, adding: “We will all have to pay for this mistake.”

Another opposition MP, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko from the Batkivschina party, said that the military leadership during the war “is something that we must preserve, support, not criticise, but help in every possible way”.

Ukraine’s defence minister, Rustem Umerov, thanked Gen Zaluzhnyi in a statement, saying:

“General Valerii Zaluzhnyi 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. War changes and demands change. Battles 2022, 2023 and 2024 are three different realities. 2024 will bring new changes, for which we must be ready. New approaches, new strategies are needed.

“Today, a decision was made on the need to change the leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

“I am sincerely grateful to Valerii Fedorovych for all his achievements and victories.”

Gen Zaluznyi was appointed as the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces in July 2021.

He led the Ukrainian army’s resistance against Russian troops for almost two years.

He had repeatedly pushed for more Ukrainians to be mobilised, saying in December that he would have welcomed the introduction of “any method” to the army’s demand for manpower.

Speculation had been rising in recent weeks that Gen Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal was imminent. At the end of January, the Financial Times reported that the president had offered the general a new role, but he had refused.

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