President Zelenskiy fires Commander-in-Chief Zaluzhnyi following months of rumours of discontent

President Zelenskiy fires Commander-in-Chief Zaluzhnyi following months of rumours of discontent
After months of speculation and rumours, Ukrainian President Zelenskiy has finally dispensed with the services of his popular erstwhile C-in-C, General Zaluzhnyi. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews February 8, 2024

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has fired the leader of the country’s Armed Forces, Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and appointed General Oleksandr Syrskyi as his replacement.

In a video address, Zelensky expressed confidence in General Syrskyi's capabilities, citing his successful experience in both defence and offensive operations, including the Kyiv defence and the Kharkiv liberation operations. This announcement marks a pivotal moment for Ukraine's military leadership, with Zelenskiy also considering other candidates for key positions within the army, signalling a broader restructuring effort.

The decision to replace General Zaluzhnyi comes amidst speculation fuelled by reports from Ukrainian and foreign media outlets, suggesting tensions between Zelenskiy and the former commander-in-chief. Reports of disagreements between the two leaders surfaced as early as November 2023, gaining attention following Zaluzhnyi's remarks regarding the risk of Ukraine being drawn into a prolonged conflict. Zelenskiy, during a subsequent briefing, publicly disagreed with Zaluzhnyi's assessment, hinting at underlying friction. In late January 2024, details of a meeting between Zelenskiy and Zaluzhnyi were leaked, where the former commander-in-chief reportedly refused to step down. Ten days later, the firing officially went through.

Moments before the announcement of Syrskyi’s promotion, Zelenskiy posted a photo with Zaluzhnyi, presumably in an attempt to present a unified front.

"I met with General Zaluzhnyi and thanked him for two years of service," Zelenskiy said, in a video address “I am grateful for every victory we achieved together and thanks to all Ukrainian soldiers who are heroically fighting this war.”

Following the president’s announcement, Zaluzhnyi published a similar message, stating that a “decision was made about the need to change approaches and strategy.”

"The challenges of 2022 are different from those of 2024. Therefore everyone must change and adapt to new realities; to win together," he stated. 

According to various reports in Western media, Zelenskiy and Zaluzhnyi had come to blows over several issues, including differing views on mobilisation. Zaluzhnyi had insisted on drafting 400,000 to 500,000 additional troops, while the president had been reluctant to conscript any more people.

Others have suggested that the decision to sack Zaluzhnyi was a result of his sky-high approval ratings and the potential political threat he posed to Zelenskiy.