Tuesday, March 5, 2024
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HomeWorldUkraine's popular 'iron general' replaced by Zelensky amid raging war

Ukraine’s popular ‘iron general’ replaced by Zelensky amid raging war


Valeriy Zaluzhnyi began his military training in the 1990s. (Archive)

Kyiv:

The commander of the Ukrainian armed forces, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, who was replaced on Thursday, became a national hero for repelling invading forces from Moscow two years ago, but suffered setbacks on the battlefield as the war progressed. war.

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

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

Western military and financial support is no longer guaranteed, leaving Kiev more exposed to Russian drone and missile attacks that are sapping Ukrainian resources.

Given Zaluznhyi’s popularity and proven ability as an inspirational commander, Zelensky’s replacement may reflect a desire for a new approach on the battlefield.

In an op-ed published by CNN on February 1, Zaluhznyi repeated his view that Ukraine could compete with the much larger Russian military only through technological innovation, including drones and other advanced weapons.

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

A HERO FOR MANY

Defying the odds, Ukrainian soldiers used stealth and speed to thwart Russia’s advance on Kiev in February 2022, helping to ensure that even now Russian President Vladimir Putin is a long way from conquering Ukraine.

As the war progressed, Zaluzhnyi’s valor rose and he won praise at home and abroad as his forces launched counteroffensives in the northeast and south that recaptured swaths of land and raised hopes of an unlikely victory.

A portrait of him smiling and making the peace sign was spray-painted on the walls after the liberation of the southern city of Kherson, under the slogan “God and Zaluzhnyi are with us.”

Ukraine’s battlefield momentum has since stalled, but polls indicated that 92% of Ukrainians still trusted Zaluzhnyi at the end of last year, significantly above Zelenskiy’s 77%.

Reported friction between the two men came to light in November after Zaluzhnyi was quoted by The Economist as saying the war was at a “stalemate,” a bleak assessment that clashed with Zelenskiy’s more optimistic view.

The 50-year-old four-star general, who rarely speaks in public but occasionally appears in news bulletins studying maps and addressing commanders in uniform, also said then that better technology was the key to breaking the stalemate. .

The president’s office reprimanded him, and one of Zaluzhnyi’s senior officers said Zelensky had fired him over the general.

If he were to pursue politics (although he has never expressed political ambitions), the “Iron General” could prove a formidable force.

THE CORRUPT ‘VOLUNTEER’

Zaluzhnyi began his military training in the 1990s, after Ukraine became independent from the Soviet Union, graduating with honors and rising through the ranks.

He got a taste of real conflict in 2014, when he served in an area of ​​eastern Ukraine where Russian-backed militants had seized territory.

Tall, stocky and with short hair, Zaluzhnyi, whose military badge is “Volunteer”, is known for having a good relationship with his subordinates and allowing local commanders to make their own decisions on the battlefield.

His warning in November that the war was entering a phase of attrition that suited Russia was out of step with kyiv’s official rhetoric, but for many of its soldiers, it was a recognition of the painful reality on the battlefield.

Russia had been building fortifications since late 2022 after suffering humiliating defeats in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions, and the most recent Ukrainian advances were thwarted.

Tens of thousands of soldiers have been killed and wounded on both sides, although there are no reliable official figures.

Ukraine desperately needs to replenish its depleted and overstretched ranks, but the government has been unable to amend draft laws to help recruit up to half a million more soldiers.

kyiv has also struggled to maintain Western support, which has been vital to its war effort.

The United States has not delivered on the large aid package it had promised, although, in a boost for Ukraine, the European Union agreed to extend $54 billion in new support, overcoming weeks of resistance from Hungary.

Still, as Europe’s deadliest conflict since World War II enters its third year, Zaluzhnyi’s boots will be hard to fill.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated channel.)



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