The scuffle in Kiev over replacing the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine General Valeri Zaluzny continues.
CNN reports that he will be fired within the next 48 hours.
Zelensky set to announce dismissal of Ukraines top commander within days as rift grows over war, source says CNN, Jan 31, 2024
This will not go down well with the electorate and, moreover, with the soldiers of the Ukrainian forces:
A poll published by the Kyiv Institute of Sociology in December found 88% of Ukrainians supported the top general. Zelenskys approval rating, though also high, was considerably lower at 62%.
Or, as the Washington Post provides: It is far from clear that any new commander will be able to improve Ukraines difficult situation on the battlefield without significantly more forces and weapons precisely what Zaluzhny has demanded of Zelensky, adding tension to what was already a fraying relationship.
Zaluzhnys popularity both within the military and among ordinary citizens makes his removal a political gamble for Zelensky. It also poses strategic risks at a time when Russia has intensified its attacks and Western security assistance for Kyiv has slowed. The general has built strong rapport with his Western counterparts and has often been able to advocate directly for certain materiel and seek counsel on battlefield strategy.
Both Budanov and Syrsky are considered favorites of Zelensky and Andriy Yermak, the chief of the presidential office and Zelenskys closest adviser. Nearer the front, however, there seems to be little appetite for change.
My personal opinion is you cant do something like this right now Zaluzhny is someone 80 percent of the military considers a good authority, said Oleksandr, a battalion commander fighting in eastern Ukraine.
For what is he being removed? Its not clear. And who will replace him? Syrsky? God, I hope not. No one in the army likes Syrsky, Oleksandr added.
The German boulevard broadsheet Bild names one of the plausible reasons for the current conflict:
The Bild publication writes that Zaluzhny wanted to withdraw troops from Avdiivka a few weeks ago, but Zelensky refused him this and on December 30 he personally went to the city to the front line to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces fighters.
So all the coffins that arrived from near Avdeevka to Ukraine since December 30 are solely on the conscience of Zelensky and his passion for narcissism.
Avdeevka is nearly surrounded and any attempts to hold onto it will cost many valuable lives of soldiers for no discernible advantage. But, just like with Bakhmut, Zelenski wants to hold on to the city to be be able point his western sponsors to some successes.
My hunch is that, after Mondays kerfuffle in Kiev, the decision to fire Zaluzny was still hanging in balance.
The change now only happened after the noeconservative destroyer of Ukraine, Victoria Nuland, had landed in Kiev.
She made some awkward predictions:
When asked by a journalist whether Nuland had learned about Kyivs plans on the battlefield, she replied that, in her opinion, Ukraine would achieve great success.
I have to say that I leave Kyiv tonight more encouraged about the unity and the resolve, about 2024 and its absolute strategic importance for Ukraine. I also leave more confident that, even as Ukraine strengthens its defenses, Mr. Putin is going to get some nice surprises on the battlefield and that Ukraine will make some very strong success, the U.S. Under Secretary of State emphasized.
This hint does not foresee success on the ground but asymmetric operations within Russia or the Black Sea. More to the like of this which has happen last night:
Ukraine sinks Russian ship.
During a night attack by drones in the Donuzlav area, the Black Sea Fleet lost the Ivanovets MRK, built in 1989, 493 tons of displacement, armed with Moskit missiles.
Sinking that ship will do nothing to change the outcome at the battlefront. Nor would any attacks on Russia oil and gas infrastructure change anything.
Nulands remark also hints that the replacement of General Zaluzny will not come in the form of Army General Alexander Syrski, who is disliked by the troops for unsuccessfully holding grounds in Bakhmut and elsewhere at too high costs in men and material.
Nulands hint towards asymmetric operations points to the elevation of the Chief of Military Intelligence Directorate Major-General Kyrylo Budanov as a incoming replacement for Zaluzny.
Budanov has been responsible for some daring, if mostly unsuccessful, terror attacks on Russian land and interests.
Back in June 2023 the Economist explained why Zelenski might seek to elevate Bundanov:
Aides huddle close when the general speaks. Under his leadership, Ukraines main directorate of intelligenceHURhas become a plucky, autonomous authority that punches above its weight. It resembles a gang. Before we had managers, now we have a leader, says one veteran officer. Oleg, an operative who has known General Budanov for decades, speaks approvingly of his ability to infect others with his fervour, comparing him to a snake hypnotising you before he comes in for the kill. Restrained, measured, never panicked. You do anything he asks.
As a confidant of the presidentthose in government call them kindred spiritsGeneral Budanov is understood to be playing an ever-bigger role in behind-the-scenes peace negotiations. Sources say he is a conduit to secret talks with the Chinese, and he has also been in contact with Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Russias mercenary Wagner outfit.
In conversation it is clear that General Budanov has been thinking hard about post-war Ukraine. Last winter there was talk of him becoming defence minister. He insists his only ambition is victory. Yet secret polls conducted by Mr Zelenskys office show they are thinking about using the cult of their hero spymaster to counterbalance a perceived rivalry emanating from Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraines likeable and independent commander-in-chief. General Budanovs colleagues say they are convinced he is destined for a big political role once peace comesif he lives that long.
To the TV producers (Yermak) around the former comedian actor Zelenski it is all about ratings.
Budanov may be good at marketing his image as a successful terrorist.
But he has zero experience of leading any size of unit in combat. You can not lead a company, battalion, brigade or army by huddling close with aides. It needs long term strategic thinking just as detailed attention to all kinds of day to day logistics.
Leading an army is like conducting a huge orchestra through a four year long Wagner epos. Having played the first fiddle in a chamber quartet does not qualify for that.
I am sure that U.S. military is not happy about this move. While there were some disagreements with Zaluzny about the right strategies those were between military professional who allowed for diverting opinions. Zaluzny was seen as an experienced professional soldier. Budanov is seen as a spook who had never been in command of any real military. He well not be talked to at the same level.
When Zaluzny goes the experienced people in his staff are likely to follow:
According to one source, Zaluzhnyis senior staff are also expected to be removed from their positions.
With the new inexperienced leadership the situation on the ground will soon become a catastrophic mess for forces of Ukraine. There will be wrong priorities, miss-allocations of resources and large scale losses of men and ground.
On the other side terror attacks on Russian targets, industrial equipment as well as population centers, are likely to sharply increase.
The larger U.S. aim of all this, first announced as a 2019 RAND study, is still unchanged:
Overextending and Unbalancing Russia RAND, 2019
The study at that time recommended the arming of Ukrainians army as the best way to unbalance Russia. We have since seen the escalation of that strategy. The move from the battlefield to the realm of terror is a response to the degradation of the first by empathizing the psychological effects of the second.
The foreseeable outcome though is unchanged. Ukraine will be smashed, Russias power will increase and the global view of the U.S. as a reliable partner will be diminished.
Reprinted with permission from Moon of Alabama.