After months of rumors of a crisis between Ukraine’s military command and President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian leader finally announced a change in the leadership of the country’s Armed Forces, dismissing Valery Zaluzhny and placing Alexander Syrsky in his place, who until then had been acting as commander of the country’s group of troops on the eastern front.

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The change of command comes after months of rumors about a crisis between Zelensky and Zaluzhny. The increase in differences between the two represented Ukraine’s main institutional crisis since the beginning of the war in the country started by Russia in February 2022.

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Tension between Zelensky and Zaluzhny had been dragging on since November last year amid the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russia. At the time, Zaluzhny stated that the situation on the front line of the war was at an impasse, which was later denied by the Ukrainian president.

In an interview with Brazil in factpolitical scientist Ivan Mezyukho explained that Zaluzhny’s public statements about the Ukrainian counteroffensive prompted the crisis between the leaders.

“The situation is that Zelensky sought to blame Zaluzhny for the failure of the counteroffensive, and Zaluzhny, in turn, in a way, through the Western media, sought to blame Zelensky for the failure. In particular, Zaluzhny claims that the country has failed to sufficiently mobilize citizens to fight against Russia. And Zelensky initially did not agree with Zaluzhny’s command style,” says the analyst.

According to Ukrainian military sources, cited by the newspaper Financial Times, Zaluzhny advocated the mobilization of 500 thousand people. Zelensky would have rejected such an initiative for fear of undermining the Ukrainian economy and causing thousands of people to flee abroad. In this way, Zaluzhny was “skeptical” about some of Zelensky’s orders and statements because he considered them “unrealistic”.

Furthermore, another factor that played a role in the crisis of the Ukrainian military command was the establishment of an atmosphere of popularity competition. According to a study carried out by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, 96% of Ukrainian citizens expressed trust in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and 88% responded that they directly trusted Zaluzhny. At the same time, according to the survey, trust in the president fell to 62% at the end of 2023.

According to political scientist Ivan Mezyukh, Zelensky found himself in a difficult situation, in which he lost the ability to enjoy a ‘multilateral’ game of support from the West, having excellent contacts with the European Union, Great Britain and the USA. “Today these contacts have become closer around the USA”, he says.

“Zaluzhny had his own contacts with the European Union, with the United Kingdom, the USA, that is, with all the Western trustees of Ukraine. As soon as the Special Military Operation began [termo oficial do Kremlin para a guerra da Ucrânia] in February 2022, [Zaluzhny] began to appear even more in the mass media, not only in Ukraine, but in the West as well. Zaluzhny went on to make political statements, which should not be made by a military figure. And President Zelensky deals very badly with any political or military figure who is popular in Ukraine, and anyone like that, if he can, will seek to overthrow”, argues the analyst.

During the announcement last Thursday (8), Zelensky did not directly explain the reason for Zaluzhny’s dismissal, but mentioned the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive last year, adding that a “sense of stagnation” in the southern directions affected the mood of society. in Ukraine. “Ukrainians started talking less about victory. But the Ukrainian spirit did not lose faith in victory. Ukraine maintains its historic opportunity. It is our responsibility to implement it,” said the president.

Zelensky added that 2024 is expected to be the decisive year in the war with Russia and that achieving Ukraine’s goals requires a “reset of generals” and a different approach to combat operations. To achieve this, according to the president, at all levels of leadership in the Armed Forces of Ukraine there must be commanders who “know and feel” the battlefront, making reference to Alexander Syrsky.

At the same time, the change of military command was made at a time when Russia currently holds the initiative on the battlefield. This is in a context where the Armed Forces of Ukraine face a serious shortage of ammunition and personnel.

Thus, military analyzes indicate that changes in the leadership of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in this situation could, for example, “strengthen the skepticism” of US parliamentarians regarding the provision of new military assistance to Ukraine. This is what an article in Politico magazine points out, highlighting that “now may not be the best time to make changes”.

Western officials and analysts expressed the opinion that Syrsky’s appointment could negatively affect the course of the war, including due to the commander’s proximity to the president. The publication’s interlocutors also doubt the new commander’s ability to resist interference from the country’s political leadership in military matters.

Political scientist Ivan Lizan told the Russian newspaper Vzlgyad that Syrsky’s appointment as commander of the Armed Forces of Ukraine caused a wave of criticism in the Western media.

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“Western leaders are well aware that the current conflict does not favor Ukraine. The Armed Forces of Ukraine have not achieved brilliant and significant victories for a long time, and therefore the United States is trying to gradually dissociate itself from Zelensky’s cabinet, at least in terms of information. I think this is precisely what explains the cold comments in the American media about Syrsky’s appointment as commander-in-chief,” said the political scientist.

“Western publications actively discuss the figure of Zaluzhny. They call him a hero and one of the best generals of our time. Regarding his successor, they speak in a more restrained or critical manner, while noting that his rise to a leadership position is an initiative of the President of Ukraine. Thus, Washington is trying to exonerate itself from responsibility for the future failures of the Ukrainian Armed Forces”, adds the analyst.

Editing: Rodrigo Durão Coelho


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