Ukraine’s President fires army commander-in-chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi

The decision comes after rumours of a disagreement between the president and Gen Zaluzhnyi, who has been in charge of Ukraine’s war operations since the start of the conflict.

The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, has dismissed the chief of the country’s armed forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi.

Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, a veteran of both defensive and offensive battles, was named as his successor in a presidential order.

This is the most significant reshuffle of Ukraine’s military command since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said the top brass needed to be “renewed” and that Gen Zaluzhnyi could “stay on the team”.

“From today, a new management team will lead the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” he said on Thursday.

Gen Zaluzhnyi is a respected general who has the trust of Ukrainian soldiers and the public, and has become a national hero.

His recent popularity ratings have been higher than those of Zelensky.

The president said he and Gen Zaluzhnyi had an “honest talk” about the changes required in the army, and that he expressed his gratitude to the general for protecting Ukraine from Russia.

The new army leader, Gen Syrskyi, has a background in both defensive and offensive warfare, Zelensky said.

He defended Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, at the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022.

He then orchestrated Ukraine’s unexpected and successful counter-attack in Kharkiv that summer, and has since been the head of military operations in eastern Ukraine – one of the two main fronts in Ukraine’s counter-offensive.

“This year must be a decisive one,” Zelensky said.

“Decisive for reaching Ukraine’s goals in the war. Russia cannot simply tolerate the existence of an independent Ukraine – the very fact of our country’s independent life.”

He said his “renewal” of the army’s command was “not about names” or politics, but rather the management of Ukraine’s armed forces and the expertise of battlefield commanders.

“The army’s actions must become much more technologically advanced. The generalship must be reset,” he added.

Zelensky said he wanted a comprehensive plan for the armed forces this year, considering the reality of the war with Russia. He said there had to be a different approach to frontline management, mobilisation and recruitment.

Mykhailo Podolyak, who is the adviser to the head of the president’s office, said the move was necessary to update the tactics used in Ukraine’s counter-offensive last year.

He repeated Zelensky’s remarks about the need to avoid stagnation on the frontline and to seek high-tech solutions.

But the announcement has received mixed reactions so far, with opposition MPs the first to condemn the shake-up.

Kyiv’s mayor Vitali Klitschko thanked Gen Zaluzhnyi for his service to Ukraine, adding that he hoped the authorities would explain the changes.

Oleksii Honcharenko, an MP from the opposition party led by former President Petro Poroshenko, said the move was “a huge blunder” by the president. He said it would pose risks for the country, adding: “We will all have to pay for this blunder.”

Another opposition MP, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko from the Batkivschina party, said the military leadership during the war “is something that we must keep, support, not criticise, but assist in every possible way”.

Ukraine’s defense minister, Rustem Umerov, thanked Gen Zaluzhnyi in a statement, saying:

“General Valerii Zaluzhnyi had one of the most challenging tasks – to lead the Armed Forces of Ukraine during the Great War with Russia”.

“But war does not stay the same. War changes and requires change. Battles 2022, 2023 and 2024 are three different realities. 2024 will bring new changes, for which we must be prepared. New approaches, new strategies are needed.

“Today, a decision was made on the need to change the leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

“I am sincerely grateful to Valerii Fedorovych for all his accomplishments and victories.”

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