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SEFANYAK_YURII (GLOBAL IMAGES UKRAINE VIA GETTY)

Changes in Ukraine's Hierarchy: Causes & Consequences

Ihor Petrenko

9 mins - 6 de Febrero de 2024, 13:00

Rumors about Valeriy Zaluzhny's possible resignation have been circulating for a long time, with talk of different visions on a number of defense issues between the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and the Commander-in-Chief. Some even suggested a personal conflict. However, for a long time, the rumors remained rumors. However, now President Zelensky has stated that it is not just about dismissing Zaluzhnyi, but about resetting different sectors and renewing different state leaders, because replacing one person will not bring the necessary changes. So what can we expect and what rotations will we see? And most importantly, how will this affect the course of the war?
Let's start with the most high-profile change in the military leadership - the likely resignation of Zaluzhnyi. In general, it is strange that so much attention is paid to this issue, since the change of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces is the exclusive prerogative of the President. This is his competence under the law, and there is no provision for any consultations or justification for such a decision. However, in the case of Zaluzhnyi, there are a number of encumbrances that must be taken into account. First of all, Zaluzhnyi became a hostage of political games initiated not by him, but by other political forces that lost the opportunity to compete with Zelenskyi. In fact, they artificially began to oppose Zaluzhnyi to Zelenskyi, forming the former as a kind of counterweight to the latter. Although Zaluzhnyi himself did not express any political ambitions or public objections to the President or other government officials. On the other hand, he did not deny the statements about his potential political ambitions. But he has not exactly been promoting himself as a politician, although some of his entourage are persuasively urging the general to participate in politics. Thus, the essence of the situation is that with the outbreak of the war, the opposition forces lost the support of the general public, they have only the support of the nuclear electorate, so they decided to form a counterweight from an out-of-system candidate to be able to unite with him later. In such cases, political technologists say to "ride on someone else's back."  They, along with Russian propaganda, have been actively spreading rumors about conflicts between the political and military leadership, and as they say, water carries away stone. In general, this is a rather dangerous trend, when politicians begin to see the military as an alternative to the government. 

Along with political games, there were indeed points of tension. For example, Zaluzhnyi did not bother to explain his actions to the President. That is, he could simply voice the needs of the military to the President, but without further explanation of the "what", "how" and "why". In particular, the last straw was the issue of mobilization, when Zaluzhnyi stated that it was necessary to mobilize another 500,000 Ukrainians. Naturally, the president asked for details on why this number was needed, but as I understand it, there were no additional explanations. In addition, the Commander-in-Chief tried to completely shift the issue of mobilization onto the shoulders of the political leadership, although the same recruitment centers are directly subordinate to the Army, i.e., the responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief, not the Minister of Defense or even the President. Similarly, Zaluzhnyi tried to completely distance himself from the draft law on mobilization, even though it was written on the basis of the needs voiced by the military. This shifting of responsibility certainly did not strengthen the relationship between Zelensky and Zaluzhny. To this should also be added the not-so-successful counteroffensive planned and implemented by Zaluzhnyi. The fact that Zaluzhnyi did not coordinate his external communication (the same columns in The Economist) also had a negative impact on their relationship, although there is an agreement across the entire vertical of power to adhere to the principle of "one voice." I think we can list more points of tension, but let's stop there for now.

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Of course, Zaluzhnyi is a recognized military leader whose role in coordinating Ukraine's defense efforts against Russian aggression cannot be overestimated. He has become a certain symbol for Ukrainian society, and not only for Ukrainian society. And he can indeed have a political future, if he wants to, of course. But in a situation of military subordination, he is a subordinate of the President, and all the tensions discussed above should have been resolved by Zaluzhnyi, but he chose a different path.

Who could potentially replace Zaluzhnyi? There are two possible candidates: Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, Commander of the Land Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov, Chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Both are worthy replacements for General Zaluzhnyi. Syrskyi, in particular, commanded the defense of Kyiv and was one of the commanders of the Armed Forces' counteroffensive in Kharkiv region in the summer of 2022. Under Budanov's leadership, the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine has already conducted and continues to conduct numerous successful special operations, including deep behind enemy lines and in the Black Sea. Despite the long list of victories of both of them, Syrsky has a better chance of being appointed, of course, if the decision to resign Zaluzhnyi is approved. In addition to Zaluzhnyi's resignation, we can also expect a change of commanders of certain areas, as well as the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Serhiy Shaptala.



If we talk about the international reaction to Zaluzhny's resignation, it is unlikely to be different than, for example, the statement of Jake Sullivan, who said that the United States should not interfere in the possible dismissal of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valeriy Zaluzhny, that it is the sovereign right of Kyiv and the right of the President of Ukraine to make their own personnel decisions. Of course, the Ukrainian society may have questions, in particular about the reasons for such a decision, and there should be clear communication from the President. There will also be a lot of political speculation, but it is unlikely that we will be able to provoke a lot of distrust among the population, because despite the great respect for the Armed Forces, Ukrainians are also aware of the existing problems. For example, the Soviet practice of treating personnel is still widespread, and sometimes the professional level of mid-level commanders is low, etc. And all these issues are the responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief. Everything will depend on changes in the strategy and tactics of warfare by the new leadership, which can have both a positive and negative impact on the country's defense capability. If this impact is positive, then the change of the Commander-in-Chief will not become a trigger for discontent. The key factor will still be Ukraine's ability to adapt to such changes and maintain unity in the face of external aggression in overcoming possible temporary difficulties.

In addition to the military bloc, we should also expect a change in the leadership of law enforcement agencies, including the Prosecutor's Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as well as the SBU. For example, the current head of the SBU, Vasyl Malyuk, may become the head of the Interior Ministry, especially since he was a deputy minister of the Interior Ministry before being appointed to the SBU. Malyuk may be replaced by his current deputy, Oleksandr Poklad. The situation with the Prosecutor General of Ukraine Andriy Kostin, who has shown very good results in documenting Russian crimes on the territory of Ukraine, also remains uncertain. According to unofficial sources, the President believes that Andriy Kostin does not pay enough attention to internal affairs. Nevertheless, Kostin is a professional lawyer, and this resignation may not happen yet, as there is no specific name of a person who could replace him in the public discourse. In general, the changes in the law enforcement block are intended to increase the efficiency of their work and make them more focused on the needs of society.

In addition to changes in the defense and security sector, there may be rotations in the government. In particular, the day before, Minister of Veterans Affairs Yulia Laputina resigned. In general, Zelenskyy has long wanted to reduce the number of officials by at least 30%, and this should have included changes directly in the government. The Ukrainian government really lacks leadership and a proactive position, but it is difficult to say whether these changes will happen now, and a radical reset of the government is unlikely at this time.

Personnel rotations are not a unique phenomenon, they are a normal practice. It's just that in Ukraine, this process is currently burdened by the games of politicians who are losing support and seeking to undermine the credibility of their main opponent at any cost, and they don't care that this opponent is the president of a country that is at war and entering a phase of protracted conflict.
 
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