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Zelensky dismisses Chief Commander Zaluzhnyi, appoints Syrskyi in his place

President Volodymyr Zelensky and Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi pose for a photo shared by the two on Feb. 8, 2024. (Volodymyr Zelensky)
by The Kyiv Independent news desk February 8, 2024 6:39 PM 4 min read
This audio is created with AI assistance

President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi and appointed General Oleksandr Syrskyi in his place.

"I appointed Colonel-General Syrskyi as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine," Zelensky said in a video address to the nation.

“He has successful defense experience - he conducted the Kyiv defense operation. He also has a successful offensive experience - the Kharkiv liberation operation,” Zelensky said about Syrskyi.

The presidential decrees finalizing the changes were published later in the day.

Zelensky also said in his video address that Generals Andrii Hnatov, Mykhailo Drapatyi, and Ihor Skybiuk, as well as Colonels Pavel Palisa and Vadym Sukharevskyi, are being considered for leadership positions in the army.

"Starting today, a new management team will take over the Armed Forces' leadership," he added.

Moments prior, Zelensky published a Telegram post featuring him standing together with Zaluzhnyi.

"I met with General Zaluzhnyi, thanked him for two years of service," Zelensky said in the written statement.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, and Ground Forces Commander Oleksandr Syrskyi during a meeting at a military command post in Kupiansk, Kharkiv Oblast, on Nov. 30, 2023. (President's Office)

The announcement follows multiple reports by Ukrainian and foreign media outlets, citing anonymous sources in the government, that Zelensky was set to fire the chief commander.

In a Feb. 4 interview for Italian media outlet Rai News, Zelensky confirmed that he was planning a large-scale reset of Ukraine's leadership that could involve several personnel shakeups beyond the military.

Along with the president, Zaluzhnyi published a similar message equipped with a joint photo.

"We just met with the president. An important and serious conversation. A decision was made about the need to change approaches and strategy," Zaluzhnyi wrote.

"The challenges of 2022 are different from those of 2024. Therefore, everyone must change and adapt to new realities. To win together," he added.

A Kyiv Independent source in the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces confirmed earlier last week that Zaluzhnyi was to be fired. The source was not authorized to speak to the press.

Responding to media reports, the United States, Ukraine's chief ally, has told Kyiv it will not get involved in the country's personnel decisions, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Feb. 4.

Umerov: ‘A decision was made to change the Armed Forces’ leadership’
Defense Minister Rustem Umerov said a decision was made “on the need to change the leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.” Umerov thanked Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi for his service.

Zaluzhnyi served as commander-in-chief since July 2021. Reports first surfaced in November 2023 about disagreements between Zelensky and Zaluzhnyi.

The alleged disagreement between the two received increased attention following Zaluzhnyi's interview on the state of the war for The Economist on Nov. 1, in which he said there was a danger that Ukraine was walking into the trap of a prolonged war.

Zelensky said he disagreed with this sentiment during a briefing on Nov. 4.  

Ukrainian media outlet Ukrainska Pravda then reported on Dec. 4 that Zelensky was allegedly "bypassing" Zaluzhnyi in communication with some military commanders, citing anonymous sources.

President Zelensky said during a press conference on Dec. 19 that he has a "working relationship" with Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, responding to a question about their alleged dispute.

"He and the General Staff (of Ukraine's Armed Forces) are responsible for the situation on the battlefield. There are many issues to address there," Zelensky said during a press conference.

A December 2023 poll found that 43% of Ukrainians believe that there may be some disagreements between Zelensky and Zaluzhnyi, but only 8% believed the situation was very serious.

The poll also showed that Zaluzhnyi has a 92% trust rating, making him the country's most trusted military leader, and that an overwhelming majority (72%) of Ukrainians would disapprove of him being replaced.

Are Zelensky and his top general really in discord?
Editor’s Note: This story initially mistakenly said that President Volodymyr Zelensky and Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi haven’t been seen together in public in two months. It was corrected since the two were seen together in public more recently. After successfully taking Ukraine through the…
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