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Zelensky appoints new army leader at pivotal moment in war with Russia
8 February 2024, 18:14
The move follows days of speculation that General Valerii Zaluzhnyi would be sacked and amounts to a major shake-up of Ukraine’s war strategy.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has replaced his top army general in a major shake-up of the country’s war strategy as the conflict with Russia grinds into its third year.
In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Mr Zelensky thanked Valerii Zaluzhnyi for his two years of service and discussed possible replacements for the top military job.
“The time for such a renewal is now,” Mr Zelensky said.
Mr Zelensky then appointed Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, to lead the army. Colonel General Syrskyi, 58, has been involved in the Ukrainian army’s effort to adopt Nato standards since 2013.
In a Telegram message, General Zaluzhnyi did not announce he had stepped down but said he accepted that “everyone must change and adapt to new realities” and agreed that there is a “need to change approaches and strategy” in the war.
The move followed days of speculation spurred by local media reports that Mr Zelensky would sack General Zaluzhnyi, who was highly regarded by his troops and by foreign military officials. Mr Zelensky’s office and the Defence Ministry denied the rumours.
Some analysts have warned that General Zaluzhnyi’s exit could bring unwelcome disruption, potentially driving a wedge between the Ukrainian army and politicians, and fuelling uncertainty among Kyiv’s Western allies.
Born into a family of Soviet servicemen, General Zaluzhnyi is credited with modernising the Ukrainian army along Nato lines. He took charge seven months before Russia’s full-scale invasion.
He earned broad public support after the successful defence of Kyiv in the early days of the war, followed by a triumphant counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region and the liberation of Kherson.
“We are on our land and we will not give it up,” General Zaluzhnyi said on the first day of the war.
Retired Australian major general Mick Ryan, a fellow of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, described General Zaluzhnyi as “a charismatic and popular military leader” who would be hard to replace.
His replacement will have to build personal relationships with US and Nato military chiefs while the perception of government instability “is a real danger area for” Mr Zelensky, Mr Ryan wrote recently in an article posted online.