According to media reports, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has attempted to dismiss Valerii Zaluzhnyi as commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Several newspapers reported that Zelensky had offered the general the post of defence minister instead, but Zaluzhnyi refused. The Ministry of Defence and the Presidential Office have denied the allegations. Zaluzhnyi had warned of a deadlock on the front in November. The press takes a closer look.

Incompetent behaviour

President Zelensky is clearly weakening, Radio Kommersant FM notes:

“What is happening in Ukraine is a large-scale political crisis - if only because the decision to dismiss a commander should be followed through instead of stopping halfway and trying to explain one's position through the media: 'We asked him to leave, but he refused and there were no candidates to replace him.' That's not how serious politicians conduct themselves. Especially not now, when the fate of the country is being decided. Politicians in the West are working hard to push through large aid packages for Kyiv to the detriment of their own interests - and this is what they get in return.”

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Big shoes to fill

Any successor to Zaluzhnyi won't have an easy time, Obozrevatel comments:

“One must realise that trust in Valerii Zaluzhnyi will not disappear. ... Any other commander will be compared with him. Even if they were successful in the next stages of this difficult war, many would say: 'If it were Zaluzhnyi there would be even more, greater victories.' And if the Ukrainian army were to suffer defeats or the political leadership were to make compromises with Russia, everyone would say: 'If Zaluzhnyi were head of the armed forces, there would be no such defeats or compromises.'”

Potential Russian Assault on Sumy Region – Ukraine Border Guard
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Potential Russian Assault on Sumy Region – Ukraine Border Guard

The Russians may launch an offensive in this sector to distract Ukrainian forces from other areas of the front.

A disgrace

Trying to remove the commander-in-chief in the middle of the war for the sake of his own political ambitions goes too far, Telegram writes:

“Zelensky has already replaced several people at the top, and there was nothing problematic about that. On the contrary, he replaced the popular defence minister in the middle of the war, and that was a good move because it put an end to at least some of the corruption. ... But Zaluzhnyi's replacement was not driven by noble interests but by the president's own political calculations. And this weakening of the unity of the national defence forces is unnecessary, inadmissible and a disgrace.”

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Dismissal would be reckless

The whole debate is inopportune, Die Welt notes:

“Zaluzhnyi is held in high esteem by the Ukrainian soldiers who are giving their lives in defence of their country. Although the Ukrainian army has failed to mount a counter-offensive under Zaluzhnyi's leadership, he is regarded as a brilliant strategist. He led the successful recapture of [parts of] Kharkiv Oblast and Kherson and the defence of Kyiv. Firing him at a time when Russia has the momentum on the battlefield would be reckless.”

Ukraine's allies bailed out Zaluzhnyi

Večernji list sees pressure from the West at work:

“Despite his good standing with the people and the army and his successes in the war, the Ukrainian president regards Zaluzhnyi as a nuisance since he has made a number of friends in key positions in the West. ... This seems to have helped him now. ... The Times reported that after meeting Zelensky in his office, Zaluzhnyi told his staff that he'd be packing his bags. But as the same source writes, Zelensky was swifty put under pressure to change his decision, especially after the UK and the US voiced concern. ... The Western allies apparently support Zaluzhnyi - also because they don't want Zelensky to be the sole person in charge.”

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Just a matter of time

Zaluzhnyi's dismissal is foreseeable, writes political scientist Volodymyr Fessenko in NV:

“A failed rehearsal for his resignation may have taken place on 29 January. According to some sources he was offered 'something else', but turned it down. However in all likelihood this wasn't the last attempt at his dismissal. Perhaps it will go through once a 'successor' is found. ... Zaluzhnyi's resignation is just a matter of time and circumstances. The circumstances include the situation at the front, which is unlikely to improve, as well as Zaluzhnyi's activities on social media and above all the political activities and 'talkativeness' of those around him.”

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Recruiting at the heart of the dispute

Mobilisation is the bone of contention, writes political scientist Olexander Kochetkov in Censor.net:

“There is a serious conflict between Zaluzhnyi and Zelensky over how the war should be conducted. ... The commander-in-chief needs 300,000 to 500,000 combat-ready recruits as quickly as possible. ... Zalushnyi is convinced that the army should train recruits, but that the political leadership should win them over for the army. ... The president is potentially willing to sacrifice his public image over mobilisation, but he is demanding guarantees from the commander-in-chief that the difficult mobilisation will lead to a breakthrough in the fighting. ... Zaluzhnyi, however, cannot offer such guarantees.”

A popular rival

Zaluzhnyi could become dangerous for Zelensky, Rzeczpospolita comments:

“No one doubts that the president and his administration tried to get rid of the general. To avoid upsetting the public - Zalushnyi is very popular - they wanted to force him to resign of his own accord. Clearly, he didn't agree to that. ... So far, Zalushnyi hasn't given any indication of political ambitions that could pose a threat to the current leadership. On the other hand, 'Bankova' (the name of the street where the presidential administration is located) would have had a big problem if he had. The general is not only popular with the people, he also enjoys the support of the army, where President Zelensky is losing popularity.”

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