Ukraine’s military leadership has undergone significant changes recently. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky replaced General Valerii Zaluzhnyi with Ukrainian Ground Forces Commander General Oleksandr Syrskyi as Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief as part of wider military leadership changes.
General Zaluzhnyi, often referred to as the “Iron General,” was widely respected and had a high approval rating. Under his leadership, Ukrainian forces were able to repel Russia’s initial assault on Kyiv and reclaim significant territories in 2022. However, the momentum on the battlefield shifted, and a counteroffensive last year failed to achieve its objectives against heavily fortified Russian positions. This, along with Zaluzhnyi’s public disputes with Zelenskyy over military strategies and the handling of the war, including the management of troop mobilizations and conscription laws, led to his dismissal.
General Oleksandr Syrskyi has been appointed as the new head of the Armed Forces. His promotion is seen as a recognition of his pivotal role in defending Kyiv in the early stages of the conflict and leading the successful counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region in 2022. Over the last 15 months, he was responsible for defending the most difficult regions, such as Kupiansk, Lyman, Soledar, and Bakhmut. Considering this, Syrskyi’s appointment makes sense as Ukraine is shifting into strategic defense.
His main priorities right now include improving troop rotation on the front lines and incorporating new technologies into Ukraine’s military strategies.
Syrskyi has been handed to solve a very difficult problem in Avdiivka, where Russians recently penetrated the Ukrainian defense and entered the town from the north. According to the Institute for the Study of War, Russian forces appear to be preparing to fight their way through Avdiivka. The overall tempo of Russian offensive operations suggests that Russian forces have prioritized fighting through Avdiivka block-by-block from the town’s southern residential area instead of trying to further encircle the settlement from further southwest or to the north, where Russian forces have made only limited gains.
Russian forces may seek to replicate attritional light infantry frontal assaults to make tactical gains by brute force, as Russian forces did during the Battle of Bakhmut. The current situation is almost exactly the same as it was in Bakhmut, as Russians are less than one kilomenter from physically cutting off the main supply line. The crucial difference this time is that this supply line does not go through the field, which increases the risk for Ukrainians.
Some analysts suggest that Ukrainians may need to combine a major counterattack with a withdrawal to save their troops, while others say that Russians overstretched their forces and may run out of reserves, which will lead to a forced regrouping and more air for Ukrainian forces. There is little public information to make a reasonable assessment of the probabilities of each scenario.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, Ukrainian withdrawal from the southern part of the town would not threaten to unhinge Ukraine’s defense in the whole region. Moreover, Ukrainian top generals ordered to build a comprehensive defense line behind Avdiivka, and the process started at the end of 2023.
Overall, Zelensky, Zaluzhnyi, and Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov acknowledged that the war dramatically changed between 2022 and 2024 and that new approaches and strategies are necessary. Advisor to the Head of the Ukrainian President’s Office Mykhaylo Podoliak stated that Zelensky decided to conduct a “systemic renewal of the leadership” of the Ukrainian military, including the commander-in-chief, to review the Ukrainian military’s actions in the past year, prevent stagnation on the front, find new functional and technological solutions that will allow Ukraine to maintain and develop the battlefield initiative, and begin the process of reforming the management of the Ukrainian military.
The changes have prompted mixed reactions among the Ukrainian public and military personnel, with some expressing concerns about the departure of a highly respected leader like Zaluzhnyi and the implications for the future of Ukraine’s military strategy. Nonetheless, the Ukrainian government and military are focusing on adapting their strategies and ensuring that the leadership is aligned with the current and future needs of the war effort. Command changes are normal for a state fighting a war over several years. Russian generals, for example, were changed almost after every operation or stage of the war.
- Frontline report: Russians crossed the “death valley” and entered Avdiivka￼
- Frontline report: Russia suffers heavy losses in failed assault on Novomikhailovka
- Top Ukrainian and German military commanders discuss military aid and cooperation
- Russian armed forces use Starlink terminals in Ukraine, sources say