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Ukraine Looks to New Military Leadership

Can Kyiv’s new commander bring turn the tables in the war with Russia?

With two years of nonstop fighting against the Russian invaders and no end in sight, Ukraine’s top general officer got the boot. The battle rhythm at the front lines is stalled and Ukraine needs new blood in its struggle with the Kremlin aggressors. Rumors of the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, being on shaky ground have been circulating for a few weeks. On February 8, President Volodymyr Zelensky posted on X that he had made a change in the military’s top leadership, relieving Zaluzhnyi of his command.

Many see the courageous Ukraine fighters faltering. The future of Zelensky’s struggle against Russia with Moscow’s more robust military capability has been hampered by the lack of a clear strategy for President Biden’s military, humanitarian, and financial assistance program. Major fighting in the Donetsk City region has seen Russian and Ukrainian forces claim success in pushing the other back on the lines of contact. But where both sides are engaged in combat, no occupation of new territory is apparent.

Ukraine Depends on the US

Add to the stalemate on the battlefield the Biden administration’s inability to persuade Congress and much of the American people of the value of being Kyiv’s principal benefactor. Furthermore, President Zelensky’s mid-December trip to the US in hopes of breaking the logjam on Ukraine funding in Congress was disappointing. “Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky came tin-cupping to Washington Dec. 12, landing in the middle of a donnybrook between the Biden administration and congressional leaders skeptical about more funding for Kyiv,” Liberty Nation reported.

Faced with diminished warfighting resources, no certainty of when more ammunition and other support would be coming, and a dearth of battlefield progress, Zelensky believed a change in the dynamics of the leadership on the front lines was warranted. The Institute for the Study of War, in its daily Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, explained:

“Advisor to the Head of the Ukrainian President’s Office Mykhaylo Podolyak stated that Zelensky decided to conduct a ‘systemic renewal of the leadership’ of the Ukrainian military, including the commander-in-chief, in order to review the Ukrainian military’s actions in the past year, prevent stagnation on the front, find new functional and technological solutions that will allow Ukraine to maintain and develop the battlefield initiative, and begin the process of reforming the management of the Ukrainian military.”

It is a common practice during a protracted war to change leadership to get a fresh perspective. When the people in charge are associated with an undesirable battlefield outcome consistently, replacing those decision makers with different styles of guidance and direction can help achieve a better combat outcome.

Ukraine’s New “Hard Charger”

Zelensky chose Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi to succeed Zaluzhnyi. Syrskyi has been commanding Ukraine’s ground forces, credited with having initial success in stopping the momentum of the invasion force in 2022. Despite being what The Wall Street Journal called a “hard charger,” the new commander-in-chief has significant challenges. “Ukrainian troops are largely on the defensive and facing an artillery disadvantage that is growing every day,” Ian Lovett wrote in the WSJ. Additionally, “Russia doesn’t appear to have the immediate capacity to break through Ukraine’s defensive lines but is inching forward in a handful of places with infantry attacks against Ukrainian front line units low on manpower and equipment,” Lovett reported.

The uncertainty of resupply makes taking the initiative in any combat engagement difficult. Slogging it out on a battlefield that looks like the treeless, artillery-shell-pocked mud-scape of the trench warfare in the Ardennes in World War I is where Ukraine troops find themselves. And continuing the fight without achieving discernible progress furthers Biden’s notion of “as long as it takes” non-strategy of the war.

The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.

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