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Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief: I don’t care what Putin thinks, I’ll take back Crimea

General Valeri Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in his office in Kyiv, Ukraine, on 28 June 2023. Photo: Oksana Parafeniuk/The Washington Post.
Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief: I don’t care what Putin thinks, I’ll take back Crimea
In his interview with the Washington Post, Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, outlined the challenges and dilemmas he faced during the Russo-Ukrainian war, explained what makes the Ukrainian Army more effective than the Russian forces, talked about casualties among Ukrainian soldiers, revealed his concept of victory and promised to liberate Crimea.

General Valerii Zaluzhnyi starts each morning by learning how many soldiers were killed or wounded following his orders the day before. Sometimes he stumbles across a contact in his cellphone who is dead. He refuses to delete them, the Washinton Post wrote in the article based on the latest interview with Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief. Valerii Zaluzhnyi told the Washington Post that reducing the loss of life among Ukrainian soldiers is one of his top priorities. However, Zaluzhnyi confessed that he would save the grieving for later because mourning could distract him from his important work as “the man Ukrainians trust to keep them safe and Western partners trust with billions in security assistance.”

In his interview, General Zaluzhnyi reiterated the Ukrainian need for Western fighter jets.  He said an offensive without air superiority, which Ukraine does not have, is a highly challenging operation to pull off, not just for Ukraine’s Armed Forces but for any army.

Zaluzhnyi confessed that if it were up to him, he would fire back at least as many shells as the Russians are firing at Ukrainian troops and would prefer to have cruise missiles that could match Russian long-range missiles. But Ukraine’s Armed Forces lack that. The Ukrainian ammunition supply is constrained, with the Russians often shooting “three times as much in a day,” Zaluzhnyi said.

Although Western allies demand Ukraine not to strike Russian territory using the longer-range missiles and other weapons they have provided, Zaluzhnyi said openly that he would always seek opportunities to strike military infrastructure inside Russia, even though he is limited to using Ukrainian-made weapons for that.

“To save my people, why do I have to ask someone for permission what to do on enemy territory?” Zaluzhnyi told The Washington Post. “For some reason, I have to think that I’m not allowed to do anything there. Why? Because [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will … use nuclear weapons? The kids who are dying don’t care. This is our problem, and it is up to us to decide how to kill this enemy. It is possible and necessary to kill on his territory in a war. If our partners are afraid to use their weapons, we will kill with our own. But only as much as is necessary.”

Carrying out a counteroffensive to liberate Ukrainian territory, defeat the invading Russian army, and minimize Ukraine’s casualties requires resources that Zaluzhnyi still lacks. The Ukrainian top general was critical of counterparts who had argued that Ukraine would not need F-16 fighter jets to succeed. Western militaries would never fight without fighter jets, Zaluzhnyi said in the interview.

Although Zaluzhnyi invested enormous efforts to reform the Ukrainian Army and get rid of the Soviet legacy, there is still much room for improvement regarding the efficiency of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. Despite the ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Zaluzhnyi does his best to reform and improve his army.

“The assumption that this would be a war between a big Soviet army and a small Soviet army was wrong in many countries,” Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said. “That’s why they told us that Kyiv would fall in three days and Ukraine in three weeks. But this is no longer a Soviet army.”

The Defense Minister of Ukraine, Oleksii Reznikov, appreciates the professional and personal qualities of Valerii Zaluzhnyi and praises his work.

“The guy is in a general’s uniform, but his humanity is what makes him special,” Reznikov said about Zaluzhnyi.

The military still demands strict order and discipline, Zaluzhnyi said. He can be stern and demanding but does not oppress his subordinates. Talking about the Soviet army, Zaluzhnyi said that any Soviet commander who took his position was “a feudal lord over his subordinates.” Valerii Zaluzhnyi does not want any of that legacy to persist in the Ukrainian Army.

However, although the Soviet and Russian armies are similar, Zaluzhnyi still respects his adversary’s doctrine. He avidly read everything that General Valery Gerasimov, the current Russian military commander, had ever written, calling it “very, very interesting.”

“He is an enemy — an enemy who is very smart,” Zaluzhnyi said. “Smart and therefore devious. He is still strong. So you have to respect him as such and look for ways to kill him. Because that is the only way to win.”

Zaluzhnyi’s concept of victory is “more than just Ukraine restoring its full territorial integrity.”

“Victory will be when we will have an army — maybe even a not-insignificant one — that will guarantee the safety of children who are now riding in baby carriages, so that they grow up knowing that this won’t happen again,” Zaluzhnyi said. “And that’s a tremendous amount of work. It has to start now.”

Valerii Zaluzhnyi believes that after the Russo-Ukrainian war, Ukraine must become a country that no one will ever dare to attack again. To accomplish that means producing weapons for defense rather than relying on others to provide them, General Zaluzhnyi said.

Ukraine’s military chief promised to do everything possible to reclaim occupied Crimea. Zaluzhnyi said he is not afraid of Putin’s reaction and will act as soon as he has the necessary tools.

“As soon as I have the means, I’ll do something. I don’t give a damn — nobody will stop me,” Zaluzhnyi said about his plans to liberate Crimea, the occupied peninsula from which the Russian aggression against Ukraine began nine years ago.


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