In the first of what is likely to become a series of major leadership changes in Kyiv, President Zelenskyy has relieved the Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, Valery Zaluzhnyi, and replaced him with another general who has seen significant action in the war, Oleksandr Syrskyi.
Having led the defense in Kyiv against Russia’s holding action earlier in the war, the recapture of Kharkiv, and the loss of Bakhmut, Syrskyi has been present for most of the northern operations, all whilst earning a reputation as a “butcher” who is fond of mass “meat attacks,” an accusation also leveled at Russian military leaders throughout the conflict up until present day.
The accusations come from low-ranking military officers dissatisfied with the appointment speaking with the Kyiv Independent. According to Defense Post, Syrskyi studied military tactics at the Red Army Academy in Moscow in 1965; a clue perhaps as to the nature of his tactical beliefs.
During the Battle of Bakhmut, where hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers were being killed per day, Kyiv Independent described the Russians as employing a strategy of sacrificing “waves and waves of unprepared men,” but that “multiple defenders of this embattled city in Donetsk Oblast feel that they are in a similar boat”.
“They say that Russian artillery, infantry fighting vehicles, and armored personnel carriers are often allowed to strike Ukrainian positions for hours or days without being shut down by Ukrainian heavy weapons,” the paper reported, citing interviews with soldiers and adding that “[m]ortarmen spoke of extreme ammunition scarcity and having to use weapons dating back to World War II”.
Despite this, and despite American military leaders speaking to the press about how little strategic value Bakhmut had, Syrskyi pressed on for 8 long months, eventually losing. Was it vanity that kept him involved in the conflict beyond any reasonable chance of victory? Perhaps, though politics may have reared its head as well.
“Syrskyi pushed for the bloody defense of Bakhmut when it was worth taking people out of there,” a man named Denys told Kyiv Independent. “This is a man led by Zelenskyy”.
By other means
War, they say, is the continuation of politics by other means, and to that end, Syrskyi’s appointment is feared by some as a political one.
In November 2023, WaL reported that it had become all too apparent that any chance Ukraine had of achieving its battlefield goals had evaporated with the failed counteroffensive of summer 2023. This was due in part to an interview given by the now-relieved General Zaluzhnyi to The Economist, and another interview in TIME which collected insights from President Zelenskyy’s closest aides.
The contents were that a schism between Zelenskyy and his generals had formed, with the former demanding the continuation of offensive operations, and the former believing him to be delusional and commanding out of a desire to keep up public relations.
“[Zelenskyy’s] belief in Ukraine’s ultimate victory over Russia has hardened into a form that worries some of his advisers,” wrote TIME. “It is immovable, verging on the messianic,” adding from an aide that “He deludes himself… We’re out of options. We’re not winning. But try telling him that”.
Syrskyi isn’t likely to be the only new appointment. Italy’s Rai News wrote that Zelenskyy was quoted as saying that the change “was not about a single person”.
“I have in mind something serious,” said the President, “that doesn’t regard a single person but the leadership direction of the country,” not constrained to “a single sector like the military”.
It’s evident that a political change of direction is coming, just after Zelenskyy unilaterally extended martial law and conscription for an additional 90 days. Per Rai, the President spoke of needing new, “positive energy,” from people “determined to win,” who would not let “their arms fall”.
As for Syrskyi, his detractors point out that despite his appointment as Commander-in-Chief coming with assurances that “the life and health of personnel have always been the main value of the Ukrainian army,” he routinely kept soldiers deployed to the front lines for over a year without rest or rotation, the Independent reports. WaL
PICTURED ABOVE: The new Commander-in-Chief, Oleksandr Syrskyi. PC: Syrskyi’s Telegram.