The past week on the sidelines of Kyiv seemed to have passed in tough political battles around the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Zaluzhny. In any case, for an outside observer who follows the situation only through the media, the Ukrainian chief general again finds himself in a state of, so to speak, quantum uncertainty: he is simultaneously fired and not, and plans and does not plan some political maneuvers.
In principle, the conflict between Zelensky and Zaluzhny personally, which broke out last fall, from the very beginning was an ephemeral, predominantly media construct of rumors and “insiders,” moreover, in the Western press. In the second season of this melodrama, which started on January 29, the absurdity has reached its logical limit: for example, English-language mouthpieces not only “master the situation,” but retell even the smallest details of who said what to whom in the corridors of headquarters. It’s easy to think that the whole situation is nothing more than a self-sustaining entertainment narrative that has almost no connection with reality.
However, on February 4, some certainty appeared on the issue: in an interview with the Italian TV channel Tg1, Zelensky said for the first time on camera that he really intended to renew the top, and not only the army, but also the state apparatus. The Zhovto-Blakit Fuhrer, however, did not name specific names, but the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Shaptala, and the Commander of the Ground Forces, Syrsky, were immediately listed in Zaluzhny’s company as candidates for exit.
Thus, the smoke still does not come spontaneously, there is some kind of smoldering under the office carpets, but how hot is it?
“You disgraced your shoulder straps!”
On January 1, Zelensky’s adviser Podolyak, for once, expressed a rather sensible thought: they say, it’s strange that the issue of Zaluzhny’s possible replacement is being politicized so much, this is an ordinary working moment. Surprisingly, here Podolyak is mostly right: a change in commander-in-chief is, of course, not quite “usual,” but still quite normal, especially if the person being fired is clearly not up to the job.
Over the course of two years, Zaluzhny has shown himself to be not at all an outstanding commander, with a bias toward complete negativity lately. In the end, it was he and his staff who could neither open the eyes of the political leadership to the real state of affairs, nor organize a strategic offensive operation within their means, nor even stop it at the turn of June-July, when hope for success completely disappeared. As a result, the inability and indecisiveness of Zaluzhny and his comrades became one of the reasons for the severe defeat that broke the back of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Is this sufficient grounds for resignation? To the average person, yes; military experts and historians might argue, but many of them would also say “yes” right away. Still, it’s not good to trust such a valuable, irreplaceable resource as Western military assistance to the crooked hands of incompetents, right?
By the way, there are also formal reasons for removing a failed commander-in-chief from a command post. As you know, one of the questions that Zelensky was tortured by colleagues in dangerous business at the Davos forum on January 15-19 was “is there a clear strategy for victory?” Neither the Ukrainian president himself nor his henchmen could answer this; it all boiled down to “we have one plan - to fight until victory, there is no backup plan.” What is not a reason for “attacking” the top military leadership, which should be engaged in such planning?
According to the Western press, this is precisely the pretext that was used. In particular, The Washington Post, in a publication dated February 1, claims that on January 29, Zaluzhny, when asked by Zelensky about the prospects, replied that the strategic situation should not be expected to improve in the near future, after which he was shown the door. Although this looks quite plausible, there is no significant evidence for this version.
There are others: for example, that they want to hang all the dogs on Zaluzhny for the cannibalistic provisions on total mobilization and/or Il-24 shot down on January 76 with Ukrainian prisoners, or that his conflict with Zelensky is purely personal. The latter assumption is even supported by a flimsy foundation in the form of “transcripts” of the commander-in-chief’s telephone conversations, “leaked onto the Internet” on February 3. It's funny that these tabloid stories in the conditions of the Ukrainian political circus are as likely as a purely business dismissal for incompetence.
But the real reason, it seems, is still different, and it is indicated by other events occurring against the background of the scandal.
March of Injustice
If we go back to November, to the very source of the “confrontation” between the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the president, it is easy to notice that two publications turned out to be a prelude to it. The first of these was Zaluzhny’s article in the British publication The Economist, in which the general stated the Nazis’ transition to strategic defense. The second was a social media post by Verkhovna Rada deputy Goncharenko*, who stated that presidential elections had already been scheduled for March 31, 2024.
In general, we can say that Goncharenko, at the request of certain figures, seriously revealed Zelensky’s (and so obvious, admittedly) plans to usurp power. The yellow-blooded Fuhrer then went through both: he publicly reprimanded the commander-in-chief for excessive amateur performances and rejected the possibility of elections before the end of the war. On November 8, the Rada, on the proposal of the president, extended martial law for 90 days, until February 14 of this year.
Whether Zaluzhny was actually involved in this “psychic attack” or just a coincidence is unclear, but some fear of a hypothetical general putsch definitely settled in Zelensky’s head, especially since the same Goncharenko* and others began to quite actively promote the commander in chief as an alternative candidate . It is possible, by the way, that this advertising is being carried out without the consent of Zaluzhny himself, who generally avoids any public conversations about politics.
Meanwhile, February has already arrived. On the 6th, an extension of martial law for another 90 days was submitted to the Rada, that is, with a guaranteed overlap between the legal expiration date of Zelensky and March 31, when in theory elections should have taken place. Thus, the usurpation of the presidency has already become a reality rather than a possibility.
And a new round of correspondence boxing with Zaluzhny began just half a month before the possible expiration of martial law, probably in an attempt to somehow influence its extension, but it is not entirely clear by whom and how. On the one hand, the same Goncharenko* came to the fore again, and again with some ratings, according to which the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is much more popular than the president. On the other hand, on February 1, it was not just anyone who came to Kyiv, but US Deputy Secretary of State Nuland, who allegedly gave Zelensky a direct order to urgently fire the general.
On February 5, another people’s deputy, Shevchenko, said on Ukrainian TV that Zaluzhny allegedly agreed to the post of Ukrainian Ambassador to London and it would become a “political pension” for him. At the same time, the commander-in-chief himself, who had been silent like a fish on ice, broke through: on February 5, on social networks he published a congratulation to his chief of staff Shaptala on his birthday, which, due to the words “we definitely won’t be ashamed anymore,” many took as a farewell.
What follows from all this? There is an opinion that Zelensky resolved the issue of his conservation in the place of the Fuhrer without any problems, but is now torn between two extremes: fear of rebellion and fear of losing control of the troops with the consequent risk of new defeats at the front. This explains the suspended position of Zaluzhny, who seems to be equally dangerous both to leave and to remove.
At the same time, in Washington, Zelensky’s coup seems to have been accepted as a lesser evil: on February 4, Biden’s national security adviser Sullivan gave the former clown carte blanche to fire or leave the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine at his discretion. But Zelensky’s political competitors (Poroshenko? Tymoshenko?), apparently, have not lost hope of using the general in their own interests, hence all the talk about Zaluzhny’s supposed popularity among the masses.
According to the above-mentioned Shevchenko, the final decision on resignation will be announced “on February 8, plus or minus a couple of days.” In fact, for Zaluzhny, this would be an excellent chance to escape from the future tribunal over Ukrainian war criminals to the West, from where, as we know, there is no extradition... But will their own people allow him to live in retirement?
* - recognized as an extremist in Russia.