by Daryna Krasnolutska
February 2, 2024
Ukraine’s top general doubled down on a confrontation with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy over military leadership, escalating a power struggle in Kyiv at a critical time in the war against Russia’s invasion.
Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, whose future as commander-in-chief of the armed forces is hanging in the balance, said in an opinion piece for CNN that bureaucracy is holding back Ukraine’s defense industry and “a new philosophy of training and warfare” is needed in 2024 to cope with limited resources.
Zaluzhnyi refused to step down on Monday at a meeting with Zelenskiy as the president seeks to reinvigorate his military after Ukraine’s counteroffensive fizzled in the fall, according to people familiar with the discussions. That left the two men at odds while military support from the US is increasingly at risk.
Much of Zaluzhnyi’s CNN column focused on war strategy, including the need for supremacy in so-called unmanned systems such as drones that have allowed his smaller forces to hold the frontline and force Russia to move much of its navy from the occupied Crimea peninsula. Ukraine sank Russia’s Ivanovets warship in a sea drone attack, according to a video posted by military intelligence on Thursday.
At the same time, Zaluzhnyi renewed criticism of the government for slow, insufficient conscription and said Ukraine’s allies are facing shortages of materiel. “We remain hamstrung by the imperfections of the regulatory framework in our country, as well as the partial monopolization of the defense industry,” the top commander said. “These lead to production bottlenecks – in ammunition, for instance – which further deepen Ukraine’s dependence on its allies for supplies.”
Signs of a rift between Zelenskiy and Zaluzhnyi have built over the past year, spilling into the open when the general said in an interview with The Economist in November that the war was at a stalemate — an assessment that the president’s office challenged and the general himself later walked back.
Ukraine also faces “a reduction in military support from key allies,” he said. “We must acknowledge the significant advantage enjoyed by the enemy in mobilizing human resources and how that compares with the inability of state institutions in Ukraine to improve the manpower levels of our armed forces without the use of unpopular measures,” Zaluzhnyi said.
While Ukraine is increasingly outgunned by Russia and running short of outside military aid, the general is widely revered among soldiers and Ukrainians at large. Yet Zelenskiy is pushing for a
bolder approach to the conflict and has appeared at odds with his general’s more conservative approach.
More than $60 billion in US emergency funding for Ukraine is stalled in Congress, and President Joe Biden’s administration has pressed Zelenskiy to sharpen the military plan to force back Russia’s invasion. Officials in Washington are concerned the split between the Ukrainian president and his top general are slowing down decision making.
Zelenskiy on Thursday urged the European Union to set an annual aid amount at €18 billion ($19.6 billion) to help stabilize Ukraine. EU government leaders earlier Thursday agreed on a four-year, €50 billion ($54 billion) financial aid package for Ukraine after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban lifted his veto. “It is a clear signal across the Atlantic that Europe is taking on commitments. Security commitments. Strong commitments,” the president said in his daily overnight address. “We are waiting for America’s decision.” Zelenskiy didn’t break his silence on his top commander.
One of Ukraine’s military goals for 2024 must be to “master new combat capabilities as soon as possible,” Zaluzhnyi said. He also reiterated a call for developing unmanned systems and other types of advanced weapons that “provide the best way for Ukraine to avoid being drawn into a positional war, where we do not possess the advantage.”
Zaluzhnyi’s CNN column was dated Thursday and the article was written before “an expected announcement of his dismissal.” No such official announcement was made by Thursday night in Kyiv.
With assistance from Olesia Safronova.
Daryna Krasnolutska is the Bureau Chief and Reporter, Bloomberg News