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Zelensky replaces top commander at defense minister's request

by Martin Fornusek and The Kyiv Independent news desk November 4, 2023 2:30 PM 2 min read
Rustem Umerov stands in the Ukrainian parliament during voting on his nomination as the Ukrainian defense minister in Kyiv on Sept. 6, 2023. (Andrii Nesterenko/AFP via Getty Images)
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Editor's note: The headline of this article originally said "Media: Zelensky replaces top commander at defense minister's request." The piece was updated when Defense Minister Rustem Umerov confirmed he had requested the replacement.  

Defense Minister Rustem Umerov confirmed on Nov. 4 that he had requested the replacement of Special Operations Forces commander Viktor Khorenko, which caused some confusion between the Defense Ministry and the Armed Forces.

Khorenko is needed in a different job, and he would continue his service at the Defense Ministry, Umerov said on Facebook. "To comment additionally on the reasons and prerequisites for changing military leadership positions during the war is to give reasons to the enemy to weaken Ukraine."

After President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed Khorenko on Nov. 3, replacing him with Serhii Lupanchuk, the ex-commander said he learned about his dismissal from the media and was surprised.

Khorenko told Ukrainska Pravda on Nov. 3 that he asked Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi about his dismissal, and Zaluzhnyi "couldn't explain it to him." According to Khorenko, Zaluzhnyi told him he didn't request his firing.

Khorenko implied that the normal procedure of firing him would require Zaluzhnyi to file a dismissal request to Zelensky, which didn't happen.

However, Roman Mashovets, deputy head of the presidential office, told Ukrainska Pravda on Nov. 4 that such a request came from Defense Minister Umerov, which complies with Ukraine's law on national security.

"The commanders of departments and separate branches of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are appointed and dismissed by the president of Ukraine at the request of the defense minister of Ukraine," Mashovets reportedly said.

"Such a submission was received by the presidential office in accordance with the current legislation."

The dismissal of Khorenko comes after Zaluzhnyi published an op-ed with a sobering outlook on the state of the war.

In his evening address on Nov. 3, Zelensky described Khorenko's replacement Lupanchuk as an "experienced officer and the right person to give our Special Operations Forces more power."

Khorenko will "continue to carry out special tasks as part of the Main Directorate of Intelligence" within the Defense Ministry, Zelensky said.

Zelensky appoints new head of Special Operations Forces
President Volodymyr Zelensky has dismissed Brigadier General Viktor Khorenko from his role as the commander of the Special Operations Forces (SOF), according to a presidential decree published online on Nov. 3.
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