09 February 2024

Ukraine’s new army chief aiming to harness power of high-tech weapons

09 February 2024

Ukraine’s new military chief has said his immediate goals are to improve the rotation of troops out of the front lines and harness the power of new technology in the fight against Russia’s invasion.

Col Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, who was previously the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, spoke a day after President Volodymyr Zelensky put him in charge of the battlefield campaign against Russia’s invasion.

“New tasks are on the agenda,” Gen Syrskyi said on his Telegram channel.

Though he provided little detail, his remarks appeared to align with Mr Zelensky’s stated aim of bringing “renewal” to the armed forces in Thursday’s shake-up and adopting a fresh approach to the fight.

Later on Friday, Mr Zelensky also announced that he has replaced the chief of the military’s General Staff, Lt Gen Serhiy Shaptala with Maj Gen Anatoliy Barhylyevych, whose experience and understanding of “the tasks of this war and Ukrainian goals” he noted.

Gen Shaptala was a close associate of Gen Syrskyi’s popular predecessor, Gen Valerii Zaluzhnyi,

But the changes at the top will not solve some of Ukraine’s biggest problems: a shortage of manpower that has helped sap morale and may require a mass mobilisation, and the inadequate supply of Western weapons to take on Russia’s might.

The shake-up of the military top brass caused some apprehension on the streets of Kyiv, the country’s capital.

Alisa Riazantseva, 35, said she had been “generally satisfied” with Gen Zaluzhnyi.

“We hope that our government has not made a big mistake” by replacing him, she told The Associated Press.

Oleksandr Azimov, 61, said there was “some discontent, some dissatisfaction” about the changes at the top.

That may be a reference to previous criticism of Gen Syrskyi’s strategy of holding on for nine months to the city of Bakhmut, which brought the war’s longest and bloodiest battle and which cost Ukraine dearly in troop losses. But it served the purpose of sapping Russia’s forces.

Gen Syrskyi takes charge at an overall difficult time for Ukraine’s war effort. With the fighting about to enter its third year, Kyiv is largely dependent on support from Western countries where signs of war fatigue have emerged.

That has left Ukraine on the defensive while Russia has placed its economy on a war footing and is building up its weapon stockpiles. Analysts detected no sign of a deeper malaise in Mr Zelensky’s move, which had been rumoured for weeks.

“Command changes are normal for a state fighting a war over several years,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, said late on Thursday.

Asked about Gen Zaluzhnyi’s exit and Gen Syrskyi’s appointment, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday downplayed the moves.

“We don’t think that these are the factors that could change the course of the special (military) operation,” he said, using the Russian government’s euphemism for the war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin used an interview broadcast on Thursday with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson to urge Washington to recognise Moscow’s interests and persuade Ukraine to sit down for talks.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in Washington for talks with US President Joe Biden on Friday about new US military aid for Ukraine. The vital support is being held up by disputes in Congress.

Gen Syrski, who was born in the Soviet Union and attended Moscow Higher Military Command School as well as serving in the Soviet Artillery Corps, is described as an obsessive planner, and his comments on Friday said his first job was to ensure “clear and detailed planning”.

He also placed emphasis on ensuring the wellbeing of troops.

“The life and health of servicemen have always been and are the main value of the Ukrainian Army,” he said.

Gen Syrski is viewed as the architect of the counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region in September 2022. That was the most significant Ukrainian victory of the war, allowing Kyiv to push the Kremlin’s forces out of the cities of Kupiansk and Izium.

Mr Zelensky signed orders on Friday to award Gen Zaluzhnyi and Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine’s Military Intelligence, with the Golden Star award, the country’s highest honour.

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