Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has appointed ground forces commander Oleksandr Syrskyi as the new army chief amid speculation that the war-ravaged country is considering changing its battlefield tactics and strategies to counter Russian troops.
The new army chief has the experience of both offensive and defensive warfare. He led the successful defence of Kyiv when the war started and was the mastermind of Ukraine’s successful counter-attack in Kharkiv.
With war poised to enter its third year, the military is facing shortages of ammunition and personnel, and Kyiv is struggling to maintain support from the West.
For many, the choice of Syrskyi as chief commander is hardly a surprise, as few in the Ukrainian military have the knowhow of being able to fill the shoes of his popular predecessor, Valerii Zaluzhnyi.
Zelensky said that he and outgoing army chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi had a “frank conversation” about the changes needed in the army, and that he thanked the general for defending Ukraine from Russia.
The renewal of the army’s leadership was not about surnames or politics, but rather the management of Ukraine’s armed forces and the experience of battlefield commanders, Zelensky added.
The announcement followed weeks of speculation about a rift between the president and Zaluzhnyi, who has led Ukraine’s war effort since the conflict began.
Ukraine’s defence minister, Rustem Umerov, thanked Zaluzhnyi in a statement, saying:
“The war does not remain the same. War changes and demands change. 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,” defence minister Rustem Umerov said in a statement.
In November 2023, Zaluzhny told The Economist that the conflict with Russia was at a “stalemate” and there would “most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough”, an admission Zelensky flatly denied.
In an opinion piece for CNN, a few months later, the general said that the army was a “regulatory framework” and called for urgent modernisation.