He's the most respected general both by the troops and general public. He's Zelensky's #1 guy! Obviously he has to go because he's too successful! Like Jack Napier, he'll return later as the Joker.
OMG. Zaluzhniy is going to come back and pop Zelensky!
Ukraine Ousts Top General in Reboot of War Effort
Zelensky says shake-up is part of ‘urgent changes’ needed in the army
By Ian Lovett, WSJ
Updated Feb. 8, 2024
Ukraine’s top general, Valeriy Zaluzhniy, was dismissed by President Volodymyr Zelensky in a shake-up of the country’s leadership. His removal comes as Ukraine faces rising challenges in the war effort against Russia. Photo: Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press
KYIV—Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky removed his top general in the most significant shake-up of the country’s leadership since the full-scale Russian invasion began nearly two years ago.
Zelensky said in a video address Thursday that urgent changes were needed to overhaul the military as he announced his dismissal of Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhniy, the popular commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces.
The removal of Zaluzhniy, widely admired by Ukraine’s public and military, comes as the country faces rising challenges on the battlefield. Its manpower and equipment are depleted after a failed counteroffensive last year and Russia is on the attack, while additional military funding from the U.S. is in doubt amid deadlock in Congress.
The move carries significant political risk for Zelensky. By some polls, Zaluzhniy is the most trusted public figure in Ukraine and is seen as a potential rival for Zelensky, although the general has never publicly voiced political ambitions.
“Today we talked openly about what needs to change in the army. Urgent changes,” Zelensky said. He added that the shake-up wasn’t about names or politics: “It’s about the management of the armed forces.”
The president added that he hoped Zaluzhniy would agree to remain part of the leadership team, though he didn’t specify in what capacity. Zelensky has recently touted a broader reset in Ukraine’s leadership, but didn’t announce any further changes Thursday.
In his own statement on social media, Zaluzhniy said: “The tasks of 2022 are different from the tasks of 2024. Therefore, everyone must change and adapt to new realities as well.”
Zelensky said Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskiy, who has served as Ukraine’s commander of ground forces, would succeed Zaluzhniy.
Syrskiy, a veteran officer with a reputation as a hard charger, takes over at perhaps the most challenging moment for Ukraine since its forces repelled the initial Russian attack on Kyiv in early 2022.
Ukrainian troops are largely on the defensive and facing an artillery disadvantage that is growing every day. Russia doesn’t appear to have the immediate capacity to break through Ukraine’s defensive lines, but is inching forward in a handful of places with infantry attacks against Ukrainian front-line units low on manpower and equipment.
Zaluzhniy’s ouster follows months of increasingly public tension with Zelensky. After Ukraine’s counteroffensive failed last year, Zaluzhniy wrote an essay for the Economist referring to the war as a stalemate and saying that Ukraine needed a major upgrade to its military capabilities to oust the Russians from the nearly 20% of Ukraine’s territory they still occupy.
Zelensky rejected the characterization of the war. He also publicly questioned Zaluzhniy’s call to mobilize hundreds of thousands more troops. In addition, the two men have reportedly argued about the best strategy for the coming months, with Zaluzhniy pushing to adopt a more defensive posture. With aid from the U.S. stalled, his successor may have little choice but to follow that path.
In his video address, Zelensky outlined several problems he saw in the military that he said needed to be addressed, suggesting a disconnect had grown between soldiers at the front and generals in headquarters.
Out of nearly a million Ukrainians who had been called into the armed forces, he added, only a tiny fraction were actually fighting on the front line.
“We need a different approach, in particular, to rotation,” he said. “A different approach to mobilization and recruitment. All of this will give more respect to the soldier. And it will return clarity to the war.”
Still, Zelensky’s decision to remove Zaluzhniy bears political as well as military weight.
The 50-year-old general became a national hero during the early months of the war, when Ukraine repelled the Russian assault on the capital, Kyiv, and went on to reclaim about half the territory that Russia had occupied. While trust in Zelensky fell to 62% in a December poll, Zaluzhniy remains hugely popular, with 88% of Ukrainians saying they trusted the general. Soldiers credit him for efforts to overhaul the military and expunge its Soviet legacy by placing more emphasis on individual soldiers and junior officers.
“There is a lot of trust in Zaluzhniy, and in such times, trust is very valuable,” said a 33-year-old Ukrainian intelligence officer. He also said it appeared there was an effort to hang blame for the failed counteroffensive on Zaluzhniy.
Criticism of Zaluzhniy’s ouster was muted in the immediate aftermath of the announcement, with many of Zelensky’s political rivals instead highlighting the role the general played early in the invasion, when many had expected the Ukrainian army to quickly fold.
“In many ways, thanks to you, Ukrainians truly believed in our armed forces, which today enjoy the greatest trust of society,” Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv who has at times been openly critical of Zelensky, wrote on social media. He added that he hoped authorities would offer a good explanation for the changes being made.
Zaluzhniy is also widely respected among Ukraine’s Western partners, having built close ties with his foreign counterparts over the first two years of the war.
On Wednesday, both American and North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials said a change in military leadership—which had been rumored for weeks—wouldn’t affect their cooperation with Ukraine.
“We’re going to continue to support both the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian military,” Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, said at a NATO summit on Wednesday.
Syrskiy, the incoming chief of the armed forces, has been serving as chief of Ukraine’s ground forces since 2019. At 58 years old, he completes daily workouts that would put younger soldiers to shame, according to another Ukrainian officer.
Trained in Soviet military academies, Syrskiy was heavily involved in the fighting in the eastern Donetsk region, following Moscow’s covert invasion in 2014.
Announcing Syrskiy’s new role, Zelensky called him “the most experienced Ukrainian commander,” and lauded him for his work in the defense of Kyiv early in the war and the lightning offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region in 2022, which retook more than 1,000 square miles of territory from the Russians in just a few days.
“Ukraine is very lucky to have such a general,” Col. Gen. Mykhailo Koval, a senior Ukrainian commander on the eastern front, said in an interview last year. During the Kharkiv operation, he added, Syrskiy “found the weak points of the enemy,” cutting off Russian communications, which led soldiers to panic and flee, leaving behind many of their armored vehicles.
More recently, Syrskiy has been leading operations around the eastern city of Bakhmut—both its defense against a withering Russian assault last year, and then an effort to recapture territory around the city, which stalled out in the fall.
Some men fighting in the east have been critical of tactics, saying he was willing to sacrifice men for nominal strategic gains.
Oksana Grytsenko, Nikita Nikolaienko and Ievgeniia Sivorka contributed to this article.