Zelensky sacked Valery Zalushny, Ukraine's commander-in-chief

  • By Marita Moloney
  • BBC News

image source, Volodymyr Zelensky/X

image caption,

President Zelensky released this picture with General Zalushny announcing his replacement

Ukraine's president has fired the country's armed forces chief of staff, Valery Zalusnyi.

It follows a rift between General Zalushny, who has led Ukraine's war effort since the conflict began, and the president.

General Oleksandr Chirsky was announced as his replacement by presidential decree.

The move marks the biggest change in Ukraine's military leadership since Russia's February 2022 invasion.

Mr Zelensky said the high command “must be renewed” and that General Zaluzhnyi “could remain in the team”.

“From today, the new executive committee will take over the leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” he said on Thursday.

The president said he and General Salushny had a “candid conversation” about needed changes in the military and thanked the general for defending Ukraine from Russia.

Mr Zelensky said the new army chief, General Chirsky, had experience in both defensive and offensive warfare.

At the start of Russia's full-scale invasion in 2022, the general led the defense of Ukraine's capital, Kyiv.

He masterminded Ukraine's surprise and successful counteroffensive in Kharkiv that summer and later served as head of military operations in eastern Ukraine — one of the two main axes of Ukraine's counteroffensive.

image source, Valentin Okrenko

image caption,

General Oleksandr Chirsky will now lead Ukraine's war effort

“We have to make this year an important year,” Mr Zelensky said.

“Crucial to achieving Ukraine's goals in the war. Russia cannot accept the existence of an independent Ukraine – the fact of our country's independent existence.”

He said his “renewal” of the army's leadership was not about “family names” or politics, but about the management of Ukraine's armed forces and the experience of battlefield commanders.

“Army's operations must become more technologically advanced. Generality must be restored,” he added.

Mr Zelensky said he expected a comprehensive plan for the armed forces this year, taking into account the reality of war with Russia. He said there should be a different approach to frontline management, mobilization and recruitment.

Ukrainian MP Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to the head of the presidential office, said the move called for a review of tactics used in Ukraine's counteroffensive last year.

He echoed Mr Zelensky's views on preventing stagnation at the forefront and finding high-tech solutions.

But the announcement has received mixed reactions so far, with opposition MPs first to criticize the shake-up.

Kyiv's mayor Vitaly Klitschko thanked General Zaluzhnyi for his service to Ukraine and said he hoped the authorities would justify the changes.

Oleksii Honcharenko, from Poroshenko's Ukrainian opposition party, said the move was a “big mistake” by the president. He said it would endanger the country: “We will all have to pay for this mistake.”

Another opposition MP, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko from the Batkivschina party, said the military leadership during the war “we must protect, support, not criticize, but help in every possible way”.

Ukraine's Defense Minister Rustem Umerov thanked General Zalushny in a statement:

“General Valery Zalushny had one of the most difficult tasks – to lead the armed forces of Ukraine during the Great War with Russia.

“But war does not change. War changes and demands change. Wars 2022, 2023 and 2024 are three different realities. 2024 will bring new changes and we must be ready for it. New approaches, new strategies are needed.

“Today, a decision was made on the need to change the leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

“I am deeply grateful to Valery Fedorovich for all his achievements and successes.”

General Salusny was appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in July 2021.

He led the resistance of the Ukrainian army against Russian troops for almost two years.

And he has repeatedly urged Ukrainians to mobilize, saying he would have welcomed “any method” introduced to the army's manpower request in December.

Speculation has been mounting in recent weeks that General Zalushni's ouster is imminent. In late January, the Financial Times reported that the president-general had been offered a new role, but had turned it down.

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