Zelenskyy may to want to remove his top commander, Zaluzhny.
The Ukrainian president believes a shake-up in leadership could help renew the war effort, reports say.
Zaluzhny is popular with troops and civilians, while his possible replacements are potentially divisive.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy may be moving to replace his top commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, after a period of reported tension between the two.
The possibility of such a shake-up raises questions about who would replace Zaluzhny, nicknamed the "Iron General," as well as what Zelenskyy's goals are for Ukraine's war effort in 2024.
Earlier this week, rumors arose of Zelenskyy's plans to remove Zaluzhny, but there were conflicting details on how and when such a conversation took place, if a decision had been finalized, or if the rumored plans were real at all.
A senior official familiar with the conversation confirmed to The Washington Post that the Ukrainian president told Zaluzhny he was being removed on Monday. An official decree was still being worked out, the Post's source said, so the plan was for Zaluzhny to remain in his position until it was completed. That plan may or may not be moving forward.
Zelenskyy's spokesperson has challenged the rumors, telling reporters this wasn't the case. "There is no subject of conversation," he said, denying that Zaluzhny had been removed. "There is no order. The president did not dismiss the commander in chief."
Whether or not Zaluzhny is being being replaced is still unclear. Nevertheless, the reports have shaken those in Ukraine's military, as well as its Western allies, especially considering Zaluzhny's notable popularity.
According to the Post, Zelenskyy made clear to Zaluzhny in a heated meeting on Monday that he believed new leadership would revitalize the war effort, helping inspire Ukrainians tired of fighting and potentially rejuvenate stalled Western aid.
It isn't clear whether that would be the case. New US security assistance to Ukraine — $60 billion in a whopping $111 billion package that also includes money to Israel and strict border security negotiated by Republicans — remains tied up in Congress, with no signs of passing any time soon thanks in part to Republican infighting.
The realities of the battlefield, too, may or may not be overly altered by a change in leadership. The front lines are largely static at this point, as Russia pounds away at Ukrainian defenses in what's turned out to be a high-casualty offensive and Ukraine struggles to counterattack. Zaluzhny, along with other Ukrainian officials, have largely said that Ukraine needs more weaponry and ammunition from its Western allies in order to keep their defenses up and prepare for possible counteroffensive operations.
Beyond the reported hopes of what a big change of command might achieve, Zaluzhny has also made several decisions in the past two years of the war that have put him at odds with both Zelenskyy and, at times, even Western leaders, though rifts have often been downplayed.
Potential replacements for Zaluzhny aren't anywhere near as popular as the "Iron General."
One potential replacement option is Ukraine's head of military intelligence, Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov. His experience is largely in asymmetric warfare and special forces. Bringing him in as a replacement could signal a prioritization of Ukraine's drone tactics, which have played a significant role in the war and highlighted Ukraine's ability to strike Russia in a scrappy-but-effective way.
Another potential replacement, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, is known for his defense of Kyiv early in the war and successful retaking of Kharkiv in the fall of 2022, but he also made contentious decisions during the battle of Bakhmut, which may make him a controversial figure.
If Zelenskyy is actually moving to replace Zaluzhny, it would seem to mark a boiling point between the two.
They have privately and publicly feuded for months now, notably disagreeing on whether the battlefield was a "stalemate" after Ukraine's 2023 counteroffensive failed to achieve its stated objectives. One of the president's aides even suggested Zaluzhny's attitude helped Russia. Earlier in the year, they debated strategy over Bakhmut. They have also had disputes over mobilization and Western aid and what's needed to fight Russia in 2024.
Zaluzhny has also been quite vocal about shortcomings in both how the West and Ukraine have tackled the war and what should be prioritized going forward. His November 2023 story in The Economist made waves for its plain and candid outlook on the future of fighting, some of which was inconsistent with the views of other prominent figures.
A deeper, perhaps more personal division between the Ukrainian president and his top general may also be Zaluzhny's popularity. Some polls have shown Zaluzhny to be more popular than Zelenskyy. While Zaluzhny has claimed to have no ambitions of running for president, some moves have been deemed overly political and he has received support from some Ukrainian political leaders, including the former president.
Amid the rumors and reports on Zaluzhny's firing, Russian propagandists have seized the moment to criticize Ukraine, claiming the chaos benefits Russia.
Disagreements between Zelenskyy and Zaluzhny and the possibility of a major command shake-up come at a rocky time for Ukraine. Russia is on the offensive with industrial, manpower, and material advantages while Ukraine is on defense with more uncertainty than ever about support from key international partners.
Read the original article on Business Insider