- Written by Marita Moloney
- BBC News
The Ukrainian President dismissed the Supreme Commander of the country's Armed Forces, Valery Zalozhny.
This follows speculation about a rift between the president and General Zalozny, who has led the war effort in Ukraine since the conflict began.
General Oleksandr Sirsky, who has combat experience, was announced as his replacement in a presidential decree.
This is the biggest change in Ukraine's military leadership since the large-scale Russian invasion in February 2022.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said the top command needed to be “replenished” and that General Zalozny could “remain on the team.”
“Starting today, a new management team will take command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” he said on Thursday.
General Zaloznyi is a very popular general who enjoys the trust of Ukrainian soldiers and the public, and was a national hero.
His recent approval ratings were higher than Zelensky's.
The president said he and General Zalozny had a “frank conversation” about the changes needed in the military, and that he thanked the general for defending Ukraine against Russia.
Zelensky said that the new army commander, General Sersky, has experience in defensive and offensive warfare.
He led the defense of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, at the start of the full-scale Russian invasion in 2022.
He then masterminded Ukraine's surprise and successful counteroffensive in Kharkiv that summer, and has since served as head of military operations in eastern Ukraine – one of the two main axes of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“We must make this year decisive,” Zelensky said.
“Critical to achieving Ukraine’s goals in the war. Russia cannot simply accept the existence of an independent Ukraine – which is the reality of our country’s independent life.”
He said that his “renewal” of the army leadership “is not about titles” or politics, but about the management of the Ukrainian armed forces and the experience of commanders on the battlefield.
He added, “The army's actions must become more technologically advanced. The general command must be recalibrated.”
Zelensky said he expects a detailed plan for the armed forces this year, taking into account the reality of the war with Russia. He said there must be a different approach to frontline management, mobilization and recruitment.
Mykhailo Podoliak, advisor to the chief of staff of the president, said the move was necessary to review the tactics used in Ukraine's counterattack last year.
He reiterated Zelensky's comments about the need to prevent stagnation on the front line and find high-tech solutions.
But there have been mixed reactions so far to this announcement, with opposition MPs being the first to criticize the amendment.
Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko thanked General Zaloznyy for his service to Ukraine, adding that he hoped the authorities would justify the changes.
Oleksiy Honcharenko, a lawmaker from the opposition party led by former President Petro Poroshenko, said the move was a “huge mistake” by the president. He said that this would carry risks for the country, adding: “We must all pay the price for this mistake.”
Another opposition lawmaker, Valentin Nalyvaychenko of the Batkivshina party, said military leadership during the war is “something we must preserve and support, not criticize, but help in every possible way.”
Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustam Umarov thanked General Zalozny in a statement, saying:
“General Valery Zalozhny had one of the most difficult tasks – commanding the Ukrainian Armed Forces during the Great War with Russia.
“But war does not stay the same. War changes and demands change. The battles in 2022, 2023 and 2024 are three different realities. 2024 will bring new changes, for which we must be prepared. New approaches and new strategies are needed.
“Today, a decision was made on the need to change the leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
“I am sincerely grateful to Valery Fedorovich for all his achievements and victories.”
“Lifelong food lover. Avid beeraholic. Zombie fanatic. Passionate travel practitioner.”