The dismissal of Valery Zaluzhny inaugurates a new important stage in the war in Ukraine

The risk for Zelensky is that the dismissal of a favored commander would stoke grievances in the military (Press Office of the President of Ukraine via AP).

“News” isn’t the best word to describe an announcement that’s been rumored for weeks but never materialized. Nevertheless, when the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyeventually replaced valery zaluzny By oleksandr sirsky As commander of his armed forces, as part of a sweeping reorganization on 8 February, it felt as if something important had just happened.

This is due in part to General Zaluzny’s key role in bravely responding to Russian forces in the early days of the invasion and his popularity among his troops and Ukrainian civilians. But the general’s dismissal is surprising for another, more important reason. It marks a new and important phase in the war, one that Zelensky risks getting wrong.

The differences between the actor-turned-politician and his battle-hardened commander were partly due to this Culture and personality, After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, these differences became insignificant; In fact, they may even have been a fort. In an inspiring example of Ukraine’s “networked” culture, each component of the country’s resistance is focused on its own task. Rather than establish central control, Zelensky continued to act as the leading patriot, voicing his country’s refusal to bow to Russian aggression. General Zaluzny, who had actually already been at war with Russia for years, concentrated on the fighting. Only when Russian and Ukrainian forces infiltrated and the front lines stabilized did these frictions begin to cause damage.

It is no secret that, as their relationship deteriorated, the two men also differed on what to do on the battlefield. Zelensky and his administration blamed General Zaluzny for last year’s failed counter-offensive. They wanted the Ukrainian military to prepare for new attacks and were pressuring it to take on the unpopular burden of war planning and mobilizing more troops.

The general rejected his arguments. He turned his attention to caution after the failure of the initial attack. Ultimately vital troops and equipment were saved. He said he could not plan the next counter-attack Unless you know what resources you have, He said that it is the responsibility of politicians to organize the society and he was right.

It is not unusual for politicians and soldiers in war to have a low opinion of each other. What really ruined relations between Zelensky and General Zaluzny was the president’s change of heart about how the war would determine what kind of country Ukraine should become.

When? economist In Zelensky’s first interview in Kiev a few weeks after the invasion, he candidly described how his country was fighting for its destiny. Democracy with European leanings. Ukraine values ​​life more than territory, he said. However, recently, Zelensky’s presidency began to be defined by the goal Recover all occupied territory of Ukraine. As it became clear that this war goal could not be achieved, Zelensky grew impatient with his general. He and his officers felt threatened by General Zaluzny’s popularity. This was one reason why he attempted to centralize power in the presidential complex in Kiev.

Since General Zaluzhny was a hero in Ukraine, his dismissal would also have political consequences (TIME)

It was perhaps inevitable that as the war progressed, the pressures and pulls of ordinary politics would come into play. Unfortunately, Ukrainian politics is not like Washington or Paris politics, It is an open competition for resources and power, funded by oligarchs and factions and, nowadays, foreign donors. In the West, ideas usually come second; In Ukraine, as a rule, they are completely absent.

Under these circumstances it was appropriate for the General to leave. In a democracy the armed forces should be subordinate to the politicians. General Zaluzny’s authority as commander-in-chief had already been fatally damaged by rumors of his dismissal. The more Zelensky seemed too weak to fire, the more his own authority suffered. The question is where that leaves the president and Ukraine’s new top military man, General Syrsky, who has been promoted from commander of the country’s ground forces.

Zelensky will be at risk Complaints erupted in the army due to the dismissal of a favorite commander, General Sirski has a reputation for being prepared to confront the enemy, even if the cost in men and machines is high. He is a divisive figure who provokes sharp reactions among serving officers. Some praise his professionalism and some say so He terrorizes his subordinates and rules by fear, You’re less likely to question your president’s priorities. When he takes over the top job, he will have to tone down his commanding style and learn to speak truth to power.

The restructuring will also cause disruption as officers move to new positions in the chain of command. It is important that these changes do not diminish Ukraine’s fighting capability. Soon, the country will need new mobilization, even if General Sirski uses his troops primarily for defense, as he should do now.

As General Zaluzny was a hero in Ukraine, his dismissal will also have political consequences. Zelensky’s statement announcing his departure left it unclear what he would do next. Those who know the general do not see him as a born politician, but he would not be the first old soldier to be turned by the promise of power. In a country like Ukraine, some oligarch will undoubtedly see this as a vehicle for their own ambitions. You have to maintain a sense of humility. For his part, Zelensky needs to be enlightened enough to understand that if he and his administration try to suppress dissent, they will damage the political culture they are trying to save.

The big question is whether Zelensky can take advantage of General Zaluzny’s ouster to recalibrate his view of the war. Today he still publicly stands by his promise that Ukraine will take back every inch of land captured by Russian forces, even though he knows privately that it will not happen soon, if at all. It would be wonderful if Ukrainian forces could drive out the Russian invaders. However, unless some completely unexpected change occurs, A war defined by territory is a war Ukraine cannot win.

Therefore, Zelensky needs to see this realignment as an opportunity to reconsider his approach to war. To survive the long fight that awaits him, Ukraine needs to increase its resilience. In military language it means improved air defense and artillery, And the ability to make ongoing repairs. Given the refusal of Republicans in Congress to agree to a large arms and funding package, Ukraine needs even greater domestic capacity to produce weapons, especially drones. Economically, Ukraine needs to attract investment as well as aid and add more value to what it exports. In political terms, this means that Zelensky must publicly rededicate himself to the war of values.

Ukraine will emerge victorious from this bloody conflict as long as it remains a prosperous, democratic and Western-leaning country. To do this your government needs a tough approach. There should be no difference of opinion between the President and his commanders.

© 2024, The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved.

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