Ex-CIA Expert Alerts Zelensky of Potential Risks

Ukraine Faces Crucial Military Leadership Overhaul Amidst War

by Zain ul Abedin
Ex-CIA Expert Alerts Zelensky of Potential Risks
© Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky removed the country's commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Valerii Zaluzhny, and appointed Oleksandr Syrsky as his replacement as part of his effort to reshuffle the military command of the country in a drastic move aimed at changing its military strategy in the war against Russia.

The announcement provoked a raft of responses to the decision's timing, and how it is likely to affect Ukraine's fight. Zaluzhny's sacking follows weeks of heightening tensions that were encapsulated when he starkly admitted to The Economist last November that Ukraine's counteroffensive had reached a "stalemate" - a view publicly rebuked by Zelenskiy.

The change in leadership is seen to reflect Zelensky's commitment in adapting to the changing dynamics of warfare with Syrsky, who was leading the Ukrainian Land Forces since 2019. Comments from Ukrainian Defense Ministry are sought.

George Beebe, former CIA director for Russia analysis and a former advisor to ex-Vice President Dick Cheney, pointed out to Newsweek: "Removing Zaluzhny would trigger an even larger Ukrainian political crisis, as the general is popular.

A recent poll conducted by Kyiv International Institute of Sociology showed a sharp drop in trust rating for Zelensky compared to Zaluzhny.

Risks in Leadership Change

Beebe, now of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, testified to the court that changing generals mid-conflict created "all kinds of inherent risks," leading to distress rather than displaying strength.

He stressed that, while U.S. support for Ukraine's defense is important to continue, the country has problems in human resources, weapons, and the economic sustainability to continue the fight. Konstantin Skorkin, the researcher from the Carnegie Institute, in his own article, stressed the risks which Zelensky is taking for his political life.

Retired Vice Admiral Robert Murrett, U.S. National Security professor of practice at Syracuse University, said in an interview that the change in the leadership of Ukraine may have been inevitable after so many years of war.

For Murrett, new strategies could open up and reinforce their resolve in the conflict. In his first public speech after taking office, Syrsky will focus on military planning, logistics, and management of troops. Coupled with the fact that he played a primary role in the defense of Kyiv and organization of counteroffensives in the Kharkiv region, he is likely to partner with Zelensky's military strategies more specifically in the mobilization of troops.

The changes of leadership in Ukraine underscore the attention the international community is paying to Ukraine's complex military and political landscape and how the outcome of the polls would influence the conflict with Russia and Ukraine's place in the future world stage.