Ukraine’s Popular ‘Iron General’ Replaced as War Grinds On

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Commander in Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi shake hand and pose for a picture during their meeting, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 8, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout)

KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian armed forces commander General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, who was replaced on Thursday, became a national hero for repelling Moscow’s invading forces two years ago but suffered battlefield setbacks as the war ground on.

The move ends intense speculation over his fate after reported frictions between him and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose authority will be tested as he seeks to rally troops under a new army chief and change the dynamic of the war.

Ukrainian forces are struggling after a counteroffensive launched last June made little headway in the south and east, while Russian forces are inflicting small but costly defeats at several points along the 1,000-km (620-mile) front.

Western military and financial support is no longer guaranteed, leaving Kyiv more exposed to attacks by Russian drones and missiles that are sapping Ukrainian resources.

Given Zaluznhyi’s popularity and proven ability as an inspiring commander, the fact that Zelenskiy is replacing him may reflect the desire for a new approach on the battlefield.

In an opinion piece published by CNN on Feb. 1, Zaluhznyi repeated his view that Ukraine could compete with Russia’s much bigger army only through technological innovation including drones and other advanced weaponry.

He also criticised state institutions for failing to push through unpopular legislation that would reform the way Ukrainians are mobilised to fight, amid a shortage of soldiers and growing exhaustion among those already serving.

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