Ukraine’s Zelenskyy names new army chief after dismissing Zaluzhny

President Zelenskyy thanks General Valerii Zaluzhny for his service, says he should remain ‘on his team’.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Commander in Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi shake hand and pose for a picture during their meeting
Zelenskyy, left, says Zaluzhny should remain 'on his team' [Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has appointed Oleksandr Syrsky, who has led Ukraine’s ground forces since 2019, as the new head of Ukraine’s armed forces, after he dismissed General Valerii Zaluzhny.

In a post on X, Zelenskyy on Thursday thanked Zaluzhny for his two years of service, and said that the time had come for changes in the military leadership.

Zelenskyy said Zaluzhny should remain “on his team”.

Zaluzhny conceded that the country’s military strategy “must change” almost two years into Russia’s invasion.

“The tasks of 2022 are different from those of 2024. Therefore, everyone must change and adapt to the new realities as well in order to win together,” he said after his long-rumoured dismissal was announced.

The move amounts to the most serious shakeup of the top military brass since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in Febraury 2022.

“The war does not remain the same. War changes and demands change. New approaches and new strategies are needed. Today, a decision was made on the need to change the leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” Ukraine’s Defence Minister Rustem Umerov said.

Zelenskyy said the new armed forces leadership team will be taking over on Thursday.

He called on the country’s new military leadership to devise a strategy for this year to beat back Russian forces.

“A realistic, detailed action plan for the Armed Forces of Ukraine for 2024 should be on the table, taking into account the real situation on the battlefield now and the prospects,” Zelenskyy said.

Last year, he said, Ukraine managed to “regain control” of the sky, but said failed to reach objectives “on the ground”.

Zelenskyy said the country needs “working rotation systems”, and a new approach to mobilisation and recruitment.

‘A military hero’

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Kyiv, said there has been “deepening speculation” for a number of weeks about disagreements between Zelenskyy and his top soldiers, “especially over the conduct of the war”.

“Zaluzhny is not an easy man to remove. He’s widely seen here as a military hero and also as a potential political rival for Zelenskyy here in the future,” McBride said.

Zaluzhny was credited with thwarting the full-scale Russian invasion two years ago, but is also being blamed for “recent military setbacks”, he said.

“It’s being presented as an amicable separation, but I think everybody accepts that this is Zaluzhny’s dismissal,” McBride said.

Ukraine’s struggles with ammunition and personnel come on the heels of a failed counteroffensive last summer and as European allies try to bump up their military production. At the same time, a political standoff in the United States is holding up further aid from Ukraine’s main supplier.

Zelenskyy’s announcement comes as the Kremlin’s forces push harder to take the eastern Ukraine city of Avdiivka, throwing more troops into the four-month battle and bombarding Ukrainian defences, as they stretch Kyiv’s resources.

Some analysts warned that Zaluzhny’s exit could bring unwelcome disruption, potentially driving a wedge between the Ukrainian army and politicians, and fuelling uncertainty among Kyiv’s Western allies.

There has been little change in positions along the 1,500km (930-mile) front line over the winter, though the Kremlin’s forces have kept up their attacks at certain points. Faced with a shortfall in anticipated supplies of Western weaponry, Ukraine has been digging defences, while Moscow has put its economy on a war footing to give its military more muscle.

Retired Australian General Mick Ryan, a fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank in Washington, DC, described Zaluzhny as “a charismatic and popular military leader” who would be hard to replace.

His replacement will have to build personal relationships with US and NATO military chiefs, while the perception of government instability “is a real danger area for” Zelenskyy, Ryan wrote recently in an article posted online.

Earlier Thursday, Ukrainian forces claimed to have shot down a Russian attack helicopter in eastern Ukraine near Avdiivka, where soldiers are fighting from street to street.

Avdiivka has become “a primary focus” of Moscow’s forces, the UK Defence Ministry said in an assessment Thursday.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces reported Thursday that its troops had fended off 40 enemy assaults around Avdiivka over the previous 24 hours. That is roughly double the number of daily Russian assaults at other points along the front line.

Ukraine has built multiple defenses in Avdiivka, complete with concrete fortifications and a network of tunnels. Despite massive losses of personnel and equipment, Russian troops have slowly advanced since October.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies