Ukraine replaces army chief in shakeup at difficult time in war with Russia

The shakeup ushering in a new military leadership follows months of speculation about a rift between Zelensky and army chief General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, who many Ukrainians see as a national hero

Reuters
Published : 8 Feb 2024, 06:33 PM
Updated : 8 Feb 2024, 06:33 PM

President Volodymyr Zelensky replaced Ukraine's popular army chief with his ground forces commander on Thursday, a huge gamble at a time when Russian forces are gaining the upper hand nearly two years into their war.

The shakeup ushering in a new military leadership follows months of speculation about a rift between Zelensky and army chief General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, who many Ukrainians see as a national hero.

"As of today, a new management team takes over the leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine," Zelenskiy said in a statement.

He named Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi as the new head of the Armed Forces.

Syrskyi, commander of the ground forces, takes the helm amid deep uncertainty as Kyiv awaits vital military aid from the United States that has been delayed by political infighting there for months.

With Ukraine struggling to rapidly reform its army mobilisation programme, the sacking of Zaluzhnyi could deal a blow to the morale of troops on a 1,000 km front. It could also backfire politically, hurting Zelenskiy's ratings.

Polling surveys put the public's trust in Zaluzhnyi, known by some as the "Iron General", at over 90% - significantly higher than Zelenskiy's 77% late last year.

The military shakeup unfolded over a series of statements in which Zelensky said he had met Zaluzhnyi to discuss changes to the military leadership. He had asked the general to remain "on his team," he said.

In his own statement, Zaluzhnyi said he had an "important and serious conversation" with Zelensky and that a decision had been made to change battlefield tactics and strategy.

"The tasks of 2022 are different from the tasks of 2024. Therefore, everyone must change and adapt to new realities as well. To win together too," his statement said.

The two statements were published within moments of one another, suggesting that the two most prominent wartime figures in Ukraine had coordinated closely to put on a display of unity.