Western media predict Commander-in-Chief Zaluzhnyi's dismissal imminent, assess risks

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, has not yet signed a decree on the dismissal of Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but this scenario is still possible.

Source: Ukrainska Pravda sources; Financial Times; The Economist; BBC News Ukraine

Details: High-ranking sources in Zelenskyy’s team assure Ukrainska Pravda that as of the evening of 30 January, no decree on Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal had been prepared.

Quote from The Economist: “To oust one of the most popular figures in Ukraine would be deeply controversial, and would mark a pivotal moment in Ukraine’s conflict with Russia.  So far, Mr Zelenskyy has not announced that the general is being replaced.  But that does not mean that General Zaluzhnyi’s job is safe. It may simply be that his replacement has not yet been lined up.”

Details: According to The Economist, Zaluzhnyi was offered the post of secretary of the National Security Council on 29 January, but he refused.

Zelenskyy has offered Zaluzhnyi a new role as a defence adviser, according to four FT sources familiar with the talks. Two of them said that Zelenskyy had made it clear to Zaluzhnyi that regardless of whether he accepted the role, he would be dismissed from his current position.

Four FT sources said that while Zelenskyy’s office had made the decision to fire Zaluzhnyi, he may not be fired for some time after reports of the plans appeared in the Ukrainian media.

According to these four sources, it is unclear who will replace Zaluzhnyi as Commander-in-Chief. The FT names Oleksandr Syrskyi, Commander of the Ground Forces of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, and Kyrylo Budanov, Head of Ukraine’s Defence Intelligence (DIU), who are close to Zelenskyy, as possible candidates.

BBC sources in military circles say that neither Syrskyi nor Budanov are keen to take Zaluzhnyi’s seat and have refused the appointment. On the other hand, says a source in one of Ukraine’s intelligence services, it is unthinkable that any general would refuse to comply with the president’s decision to appoint them Commander-in-Chief.

BBC sources in Ukraine’s defence sector say that under the current circumstances, the resignation of the Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief seems to be merely a matter of time. Allegedly, the number of disagreements between Zelenskyy and Zaluzhnyi has reached a critical point. This is probably not just a matter of different views on combat operations, but of personal differences and lack of trust between them.

According to the BBC, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Valerii Zaluzhnyi and Defence Minister Rustem Umierov held a meeting at the President’s Office on Monday – without Andrii Yermak, Head of the Office of the President. The meeting was held in a calm tone, with the president saying that he had decided to dismiss the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and that a decree would be signed in the near future.

According to the BBC, Zelenskyy has been close to firing Zaluzhnyi on several occasions in recent months. What exactly prompted the president to inform the Commander-in-Chief of his imminent resignation in person on 29 January is not known for certain.

The situation on the frontline has not changed significantly recently. The big news was the crash of a Russian Il-76 aircraft near Belgorod last week, but the Ukrainian public still does not know the details of the incident.

One of the BBC’s sources said that the president justified the need for Zaluzhnyi’s resignation in a conversation on Monday by saying that he wanted to reboot the entire system of Ukraine’s national security and defence authorities. However, there have been no reports of personnel changes in other security, military and law enforcement agencies.

It is also unclear what exactly prevented the president from issuing a decree after he announced his personnel decision to Zaluzhnyi. BBC government sources say there are two main possibilities: either Kyiv’s Western partners intervened, or there is a problem with the appointment of a new Commander-in-Chief.

The Economist notes that Syrskyi, 58, is unpopular with the military because of his tough approach to warfare, and Budanov, 38, has never led a conventional armed force or an organisation of one million people, so there is speculation that the DIU chief has refused to take up the post of Commander-in-Chief.

The newspaper describes this situation as a stalemate. Supposedly, Zaluzhnyi was pressuring Zelenskyy to mobilise people on a large-scale basis, there were fierce debates between the Office of the President and the General Staff over military strategy, and the growing popularity of the Commander-in-Chief could be a cause for concern, but “removing a man as popular with his soldiers and the public as the general carries political and military risks”.

Quote from The Economist: “It is not clear how this story will end.  But if Mr Zelenskyy keeps his top commander on, he will look weak.  If he fires him, the clumsy way it has been handled will only damage confidence in the leadership.”

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