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Feb 5, 2024, 4:11pm EST
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Semafor Signals

Zelenskyy says Ukraine needs a leadership ‘reset’

Insights from The Kyiv Independent, The Washington Post, and Der Spiegel

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in Kyiv, Ukraine, on January 22, 2024.
Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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The News

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that a reset of the country’s government and military leadership is needed, after weeks of rumors that have left Ukraine and its allies uncertain about the future of Kyiv’s leadership.

“A reset, a new beginning is necessary, Zelenskyy said in an interview with the Italian news outlet Rai News.

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Kyiv has reportedly informed the White House that Zelenskyy is planning on firing Ukraine’s popular commander-in-chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi amid reports of growing tensions and distrust between the pair.

When asked about the rumors, Zelenskyy answered that his planned changes were broader and suggested they would include senior government officials.

“I have something serious in mind, which is not about a single person but about the direction of the country’s leadership,” he said.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Zelenskyy’s dilemma over whether to fire general comes amid a tougher political climate

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Sources:  
The Times, The Washington Post, Der Spiegel

Vindictive if he sacks him, weak if he doesn’t,” is how analyst Mark Galeotti presented Zelenskyy’s political dilemma over whether to dismiss his top general, who is popular both with soldiers and Ukraine’s population at large. After a flurry of rumors of Zaluzhnyi’s firing last week sparked widespread concern among Ukrainians and Western political partners, Zelenskyy’s administration delayed announcing the decision, The Washington Post reported. While domestic politics have been overshadowed by war efforts since Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s “tradition of robust political debate is back,” Galeotti added, saying that to navigate this new political environment, Zelenskyy will have to refashion himself less as an embattled war leader than as a politician again. Critics of Zelenskyy have become ever-more comfortable launching broadsides against the president. Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said late last year that Zelenskyy’s centralizing tendencies meant that “at some point we will no longer be any different from Russia, where everything depends on the whim of one man.”

Ukraine’s Western allies are nervous about a change in leadership

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Sources:  
CBS News, Financial Times, The Kyiv Independent, Mick Ryan

In public, Western leaders have asserted that Zelenskyy’s choice to replace parts of Kyiv’s leadership is a purely domestic matter. “That is not something the U.S. government should be weighing in on one way or another,” U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CBS on Sunday. But behind closed doors, officials are concerned about the impact of Zaluzhnyi’s removal, the Financial Times reported. Ukraine’s commander-in-chief is well respected at home and abroad, and is the only figure in Ukraine whose polling numbers match Zelenskyy’s popularity. One official told the FT that they feared Zaluzhnyi’s removal would lead to backlash among Ukraine’s troops on the front line and the wider civilian population. A change in leadership could also be used by Ukraine-skeptics, playing into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s narrative that “Russian victory is inevitable and ongoing military support for Ukraine is wasted,” the military analyst Mick Ryan wrote.

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