Photo: Press service of the Ukrainian presidency via Agence France-Presse MM. Zelensky and Zaluzhny published the same photo of them shaking hands and smiling on their respective Telegram channels on Thursday, while, according to some media, the presidency feared that the announcement would trigger protests in kyiv.
Stanislav Doshchitsyn – Agence France-Presse to kyiv
February 8, 2024
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday replaced the popular commander-in-chief of his armies, Valery Zalouzhny, with lesser-known general Oleksandr Syrsky, a major change that had been the subject of persistent rumors.
“Today the decision was made to change the command of the Ukrainian armed forces,” said Defense Minister Roustem Umerov, saying he was “grateful” to Valery Zaluzhny.< /p>
In the process, Volodymyr Zelensky declared that he had chosen the head of the army, Oleksandr Syrsky, “the most experienced general in Ukraine”, to succeed him.
The president stressed that he had commanded the defense of kyiv at the start of the Russian invasion, almost two years ago, then the counter-offensive in the fall of 2022 which liberated the Kharkiv region.
Valery Zalouzhny, 50, was appointed in July 2021. His successes against the Russian army have earned him the adulation of his fellow citizens and the respect of his Western partners. But tension had been rising for several months between the president and him.
According to highly placed Ukrainian sources, Mr. Zelensky and his entourage have been blaming the army chief and his staff for months for the lack of progress on the front.
Since the end of 2022, the front line has been virtually frozen, a situation that kyiv's summer counter-offensive has failed to change.
In the Black Sea, Ukraine can, however, boast of significant successes against the Russian fleet, reputed to be much more powerful.
In recent months, it has succeeded in keeping these ships away from the southwest of these waters and reopening a maritime corridor to export Ukrainian grain, ignoring threats of bombing.
Some media also claim that the presidency takes a dim view of the general's popularity, at a time when that of Volodymyr Zelensky is no longer at its peak.
The president said he wanted Valery Zalouzhny to remain on his “team”, without explaining what this would consist of. “The time for renewal is now,” he said.
He also asked the new army commander for a “realistic” battle plan for 2024.
Oleksandr Syrsky, 58, has neither the popularity nor the notoriety of his legendary predecessor. He also doesn't have the best reputation among his troops, where some consider him a man with Soviet training, little concerned about human losses.
According to a survey published in December, 48% of those surveyed said they did not even know Mr. Syrsky.
Help and pressure
Valery Zaluzhny issued a statement stating that Ukraine's strategy must “change and adapt” to fight Russia after two years of invasion.
“Our fight continues and evolves every day. The tasks of 2022 are different from those of 2024,” he wrote on Telegram, after a “serious” discussion with Volodymyr Zelensky.
MM. Zelensky and Zaluzhny published the same photo of them shaking hands and smiling on their respective Telegram channels, while, according to some media, the presidency feared that the announcement would trigger protests in Kiev.
At the end of January, Ukrainian media claimed that the head of state had met Valery Zalouzhny to announce his decision to dismiss him.
After almost two years of fierce fighting, Ukraine faces many dangers on the front. His army lacks ammunition, essential to resist Russian assaults.
The Russian army is increasing the pressure on the eastern front, particularly at Avdiïvka, the epicenter of the battle. Moscow's forces are attacking this city “with very large forces”, its mayor reported Thursday, describing a situation that is “simply unreal” in places.
And essential international aid seems more shaky than ever.
In the United States as in Europe, political divisions are accumulating on the subject, and the era when Kiev's allies seemed ready to spend lavishly seems to be over.
The American President, Joe Biden, has been trying for months to have his Congress validate a new aid package, without success so far.