Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy replaced the Commander-In-Chief of all Ukrainian armed forces on Thursday following disputes.
“The year 2024 can be successful for Ukraine only if we make effective changes in the basis of our defense, which is the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” said President Zelenskyy.
The announcement did not come as a surprise, as Zelenskyy had previously signaled that he would remove Gen. Valery Zaluzhny from his position, despite the general’s popularity with the Ukrainian people and media.
Zaluzhny was commonly referred to by both Ukrainian and Western media as the “iron general” and was largely credited with Ukraine’s ability to resist the Russian army to the extant which they have.
Despite the popularity of Zaluzhny with Ukrainians and Western media, such as Politico, which published a fawning interview about the general in 2022, Zaluzhny and Zelenskyy developed tensions over strategy and their different outlooks on the war.
Zaluzhny garnered criticism from Zelenskyy following Ukraine’s lackluster counteroffensive which began in June, when he admitted that Ukraine was not making progress in its war.
“Just like in the first world war we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate,” said Zaluzhny in The Economist, “There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough.”
These comments enraged Zelenskyy, who has avoided acknowledging the possibility of a Ukrainian defeat.
The Ukrainian leaders also disagreed about military strategy, with Zaluzhny arguing that the country needed to increase draft numbers to 500,000, which Zelenskyy resisted.
Despite these controversies, Zaluzhny maintained an extremely high approval rating from the public.
A December poll, conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, showed that 92 percent of Ukrainians trusted Zaluzhny, and 72 percent said that they would look negatively on a decision by Zelenskyy to replace the general.
Despite negative public opinion, Zelenskyy decided to replace the general as U.S. lawmakers have grown less willing to prop up the Ukrainian economy and military.
Zelenskyy appointed Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi to succeed Zelensky, despite Syrskyi’s unpopularity amongst the Ukrainian public within the military. Known as the “Butcher” Syrskyi was responsible for the defense of Bakhmut, and is blamed for not properly withdrawing troops in a timely fashion, resulting in needless losses.
Syrskyi was also in charge of subsequent attempts to recapture Bakhmut during Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive, infamously saying that he had Russian troops in a state of “semi-encirclement” in July of 2023. All attempts to retake the city failed.
Although Zelenskyy removed Zaluzhny from his high office, the president hopes that Zaluzhny will continue to be a part of Ukraine’s war effort.
“I have offered General Zaluzhny to continue to be part of the team of the Ukrainian state. I would be grateful for his consent,” said Zelenskyy.
Zelesnky also awarded Zaluzhny the title of “Hero of Ukraine,” the highest national decoration in Ukraine.