Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky fired the head of the armed forces, Valery Zalushny, on Thursday, ending intense speculation.
“We discussed the renewal of the armed forces that Ukraine needs,” the general asked to be “on the team,” after revealing he had met with the general. “We also discussed who could be at the renewed leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The time for this renewal has now come,” the president announced in a telegram post.
Over the weekend, Zelensky said in an interview that he was considering changes in the leadership of several departments, including the military. Zelensky's words were interpreted as a strong indication that Zaluzhny would be removed from the post of head of the armed forces.
Defense Minister Rustem Umerov thanked Zalushny for his service, highlighting his “difficult work” over the past two years. “War changes and calls for changes. The wars in 2022, 2023 and 2024 are three different realities. 2024 will bring new changes and we must be ready for that,” Umerov said in a statement.
In Zalushny's place, Zelensky appointed Colonel General Oleksandr Chirsky, who had until now been the head of the ground forces. Chirsky, 58, was credited with successfully defending Kiev in the first weeks after the Russian invasion.
Zalushny's resignation represents the culmination of the biggest institutional crisis to hit Ukraine since Russia's large-scale invasion began nearly two years ago.
One of the moments that most negatively affected their relationship Interview Zaluzhny presented to the press Economist, in November, he described the situation at the frontline as “an impasse”. The statements by the commander of the armed forces were poorly received by Zelensky, who considered them too encouraging and questioning the commitment of Kiev's Western allies to continue supporting the Ukrainian war effort.
Last week, it was announced that Salushny had been fired at Zelensky's request, but, after a few moments of uncertainty and confusion, everything remained the same.
In the past two years, Zalushny has become one of the most popular figures in Ukraine, hailed as a national hero and seen as one of the main figures behind Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion. Because of this there are those who see him as Zelensky's internal political enemy, although the general himself has publicly disavowed any ambitions in this field.
The change at the top of the Ukrainian military hierarchy comes at a critical time, with Ukrainian forces struggling with severe shortages of ammunition and fighters on the front lines, and months after a counter-offensive led to a general rout. On the other hand, Russian pressure is intense, especially when large parts of the territory are affected by massive bombings like this Wednesday.
One of the key unknowns is how replacing Zalushni, much-loved by the Army, will affect the morale of soldiers on the front lines.
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