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Updated Feb 8, 2024, 12:09pm EST
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Ukraine’s commander-in-chief is out

Insights from Ukrainska Pravda, The Washington Post, and Politico

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Volodymyr Zelenskyy on X
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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced Thursday that he has fired Valerii Zaluzhnyi from the role of the military’s commander-in-chief. His dismissal is the most high-profile change in leadership in Kyiv since Russia’s invasion.

“The time for renewal is now,” Zelenskyy wrote on X. “I proposed to General Zaluzhnyi to remain part of the team,” he added. The commander of Ukraine’s land forces, Oleksandr Syrsky has been appointed as the new military leader.

“2024 will bring new changes for which we must be ready. New approaches, new strategies are needed,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister Rustem Umerov said in a Facebook post, thanking Zaluzhynyi for his time leading the army.

Zaluzhnyi, the second most popular public figure in the country after Zelenskyy, told the Economist last November that the war had reached a “stalemate,” bringing tensions between the two men into public view as Zelenskyy reportedly saw him as a growing political threat to his presidency. A presidential spokesperson said at the time that Zaluzhnyi’s comments stirred “panic” among Western allies and eased “the work of the aggressor.”

After rumors started swirling about Zalulzhnyi being fired in early January, Zelenskyy’s office initially denied the rumors following a public outcry over his potential dismissal.

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New commander-in-chief may struggle to win over Ukraine’s troops

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Sources:  
The Economist's Oliver Carroll, The Washington Post, Dmitri Alperovitch, The Economist

Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrsky has reportedly been appointed the new head of Ukraine’s land forces. “He is well respected by Ukrainian general class. But some western military analysts have their doubts,” The Economist’s Oliver Carroll wrote on X. Syrsky is reportedly not widely liked by Ukraine’s front-line troops, who believe he has been too willing to sacrifice lives on the front. ”His popularity with the troops is not amazing, to say the least,” Dmitri Alperovitch, the head of Silverado Policy Accelerator, wrote on X. The new commander-in-chief has been described by colleagues as a gym addict and obsessive planner who regularly visits his soldiers in the field, The Economist reported.

The Zaluzhnyi-Zelenskyy rivalry reaches a boil

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Sources:  
Simon Shuster’s 'The Showman' , Ukrainska Pravda, Politico

The Ukrainian president has long been wary of Zaluzhnyi, the only political figure in Ukraine whose polling numbers come close to Zelenskyy’s. The first signs of disagreement appeared even before the war, when the two men disagreed about the need to prepare seriously for a Russian invasion, leading Zaluzhnyi to hide his defensive preparations from the president, according to Simon Shuster’s biography of Zelenskyy titled The Showman.

In the summer of 2022, Zaluzhnyi established his own charitable foundation, which Zelenskyy’s team considered a potential step towards starting a political movement. More recently, the two have quarreled over military strategy and whether to mobilize more soldiers. Zaluzhnyi has said more troops are needed, but attempts at expanding the draft have been politically unpopular. Zelenskyy has also become increasingly involved in military decision-making, creating “parallel channels of communication” with defense officials that have allowed him to sidestep Zaluzhnyi, according to Ukrainska Pravda.

Majority of Ukrainians do not want to see Zaluzhnyi go

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Sources:  
Reuters, TIME Magazine

Only 2% of Ukrainians support removing Zaluzhnyi, while 72% would view his dismissal “negatively,” according to a poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology at the end of last year. The general’s tremendous popularity reflects the key role he played in both ensuring Ukraine survived Russia’s initial invasion and recaptured swathes of Russian-occupied territory in 2022. Zaluzhnyi, who once dreamed of being a comedian, has been credited with pushing the Ukrainian military away from a rigid Soviet-era military doctrine towards a Western military culture where commanders are empowered to make quick decisions on the ground. Gen. Mark Milley, his then-U.S. counterpart in 2022, described Zaluzhnyi as “the military mind his country needed.”

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