Zelensky Appoints New Army Chief Nicknamed the ‘Butcher’

Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has ousted his commander-in-chief, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, after months of growing wartime tensions.

Zaluzhny led the Ukrainian military through efforts to fend off Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, working closely with western allies to secure key military aid. But tensions emerged between Zaluzhny and Zelensky in recent months after Ukraine’s counteroffensive last year failed to secure major victories.

“I met with General Valerii Zaluzhnyi. I thanked him for the two years of defending Ukraine. We discussed the renewal that the Armed Forces of Ukraine require. We also discussed who could be part of the renewed leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The time for such a renewal is now,” Zelensky said Thursday on Twitter. “I proposed to General Zaluzhnyi to remain part of the team.”

Zelensky announced on Telegram that he has appointed Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi as commander-in-chief. Syrskyi, whom Zelensky labeled as “the most experienced Ukrainian commander” on Thursday, has led Ukraine’s ground forces since 2019.

The new appointment could rankle Ukrainian soldiers, though. Syrskyi’s critics have lambasted some of his previous battlefield decisions as misguided—including in Bakhmut, which eventually fell to the Russians in one of the bloodiest battles of the war—earning him the nickname “the butcher.”

Major Russian Victory Feared as Soldier Delivers Grim Message

Syrskyi has, however, led some successful operations against Russia in recent years. He led the defense of Kyiv in the early days of the war in 2022, keeping Russian troops at bay outside of the Ukrainian capital. Later that year, he also led the counteroffensive push that kept Russian troops out of Kharkiv.

The shakeup comes as Ukraine faces a pivotal moment in the war. U.S. lawmakers have been waffling over a bill that would secure $60.1 billion in aid for Ukraine, stalling out on key aid that Ukrainian leaders say they need to sustain the fight. Russia has been increasing its aerial bombardments of Ukraine in an effort to regain momentum after months-long stalemate. Ukrainian commanders have been reporting a growing shortage of personnel, adding further obstacles for the already exhausted force that has been fight Russia for almost two years now, The Washington Post reported.

“There is no one to replace them, so they sit there more, their morale drops, they get sick or suffer frostbite. They are running out. There is no one to replace them. The front is cracking. The front is crumbling,” one commander told The Post. “Why can’t we replace them? Because we don’t have people; nobody comes to the army. Why doesn’t anyone come to the army? Because the country didn’t tell people that they should go to the

It was not immediately clear how Syrskyi’s appointment as Zelensky’s top general would change the focus of the war effort.

But Zelensky called on Thursday for a major “reset” of the Armed Forces in remarks. He said he expects “a realistic, detailed action plan for the Armed Forces” to be presented soon that takes into account the realities of the battlefield of 2024, highlighting the need for different rotations for troops and better mobilization efforts.

“We need a different approach to rotations in particular… a different approach to mobilization and recruitment,” Zelensky said in remarks on Thursday. “Rotations are a must.”

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