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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Valery Zaluzhny: The Mastermind Responsible for Leading Ukraine’s Counter-offensive

Gen. Zaluzhny was appointed commander in chief of the Ukrainian armed forces in July 2021

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Sadaf Hasan
Sadaf Hasan
Aspiring reporter covering trending topics

UKRAINE: The long-awaited endeavour by Ukraine to retake the territories in the east and south of the country, which have been occupied by Russia for the past 18 months, is currently in full swing.

Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, the 49-year-old commander-in-chief of Ukraine, played a key role in planning and executing this operation. His popularity, which was unknown until recently, is now on par with that of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Gen. Zaluzhny, also known as “our Valera” by friends and former classmates, was appointed commander in chief of the Ukrainian armed forces in July 2021.

Those who are familiar with the general said that the appointment, which President Zelensky personally pushed through, surprised both him and many others, as his promotion required climbing a number of steps on the career ladder.

Zaluzhny had a reputation for being an aspirational, forward-thinking leader who also liked to joke around with his employees and didn’t put on a show.

He oversaw Ukraine’s fight against a full-scale invasion in less than seven months. By February 26, 2022, it was evident that Russian forces were failing to “take Kiev in three days,” which had at first appeared to be a plausible scenario.

But the situation remained dire, and the Ukrainian government urged the populace not to panic. Russian forces that were advancing in the nation’s north, east, and south posed a serious threat to the Ukrainian capital.

One suggestion made by Ukraine’s top leaders was to start detonating bridges across the massive Dnipro River in Kyiv to stop the Russians from crossing from the western right bank, where, among other strategically important locations, the government quarter was located, to the eastern left bank.

Gen. Zaluzhny was contacted for his opinion. He is said to have replied, “Under no circumstances are we to do that,” while at the time sitting in a smoke-filled bunker with other high brass. “This will be a betrayal of both civilians and the military remaining on the eastern bank,” he said.

Two people who were involved in the episode have given matching accounts to the media that indicate this is what happened.

Numerous further key choices were made, and by the beginning of April 2022, Ukrainian forces had driven the Russian army back to the region to the north and east of Kiev.

Although Valery Zaluzhny was born into a family of Soviet servicemen, he once said that he had always been anxious to separate himself from the harsh hierarchy of the Soviet Army. Midway through the 1990s, when he attended military school, Ukraine was already an independent state.

Although his military college texts may have been from the Soviet era, he gained firsthand knowledge of the realities of combat. He was given the position of deputy commander in 2014 in a region of eastern Ukraine where the Russian army was supporting separatists in their fight for independence.

From the beginning of his career, according to colleagues we spoke with, he was committed to developing trusting connections with his subordinates and delegating command choices.

Lyudmyla Dolhonovska, a former aide to Zaluzhny who was by his side throughout the early stages of the Russian invasion, told the BBC that he hardly slept and maintained contact with military personnel on the front lines.

“He spoke on the phone to his generals a lot, but the conversations were always focused and calm,” she stated.

Analysts claim that Ukrainian units’ adaptability and the ability of their junior officers to make decisions on the battlefield gave them a significant advantage over the Russian army’s top-heavy decision-making structures.

Some military sources in Ukraine even go so far as to claim that Gen. Zaluzhny should only be given credit for granting them the freedom to act; the decisive commanders on the ground should be held accountable for Ukraine’s victories as a whole.

Through his nightly remarks, President Zelensky was instrumental in preserving the public’s morale in Ukraine as the conflict dragged on.

He put pressure on his foreign allies for financial and military support while promoting an image of strong leadership. Gen. Zaluzhny’s main concern was getting military strategy right.

The Ukrainian army liberated sizable portions of the country’s east and south after making effective advances in late summer and early fall.

Despite being rarely seen in public and even less frequently accepting interviews, the commander in chief rose to become a national icon. His name became associated with bravery and tenacity, and his fame gave rise to parables and expressions.

One such saying said, “When Zaluzhny walks into a dark room, he doesn’t switch on the light; he switches off the darkness.” As his approval ratings caught up to those of Zelensky, rumours of a breach between the two men circulated.

There were rumours that Zelensky might succeed Zaluzhny as military commander or even that Zaluzhny would put the president’s political authority in jeopardy. Both have not happened as of yet.

President Zelensky “simply has no time for such jealousy as he is 102% preoccupied with getting military support for Ukraine from its partners,” a source in the presidential administration told the media. The two men seem content to let each other focus on their work.

In June of last year, Gen. Zaluzhny admitted to Time magazine that he did not bother to go into great depth with Zelensky on military policy.

“He doesn’t need to understand military affairs any more than he needs to know about medicine or bridge-building,” he said.

Political analysts and sociologists have said that Zaluzhny’s popularity is understandable given the current circumstances, when Ukrainians need to find measures to increase morale. They also highlight his warmth.

He once showed up to a soldier’s wedding who had to postpone the reception because he had been ordered to the front line at Bakhmut. Finally, the soldier was granted a brief leave of absence so that he could marry his fiancée.

Russian military bloggers started spreading allegations that Gen. Zaluzhny had been seriously injured or possibly murdered in mid-May as rumours of an impending Ukrainian invasion heated up.

Chief of Russian foreign intelligence Sergei Naryshkin noted this and stated, “Naturally, we have all information about the state of health of the Ukrainian Army commander, but we will not disclose it.”

Gen. Zaluzhny’s close friend, Col. Anatoly Shtefan, stated that while Ukraine’s top brass made fun of the reports, calling them the “height of Russian propaganda madness,” it was evident that Ukrainians were beginning to worry as well.

Gen. Zaluzhny was photographed during a military ceremony in Kyiv at the beginning of June, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence.

While Valery Zaluzhny’s hero status among Ukrainians is currently assured, the future is probably going to be challenging because so many people are placing their hopes in the commander-in-chief.

Sociologist Oleksiy Antypovych cautions that Ukraine would face a hard reality even if its defence ultimately triumphs, and Zaluzhny may decide to stay away from politics. “It is highly likely that after the war, Ukraine will face a severe economic crisis, if not a complete collapse. It will be a completely different ball game.”

Political expert Mykola Davydiuk thinks the military chief may be successful if he enters politics. “While Zelensky is a leader who didn’t abandon Ukrainians, Zaluzhny was the one who defended them. It’s an organic narrative for him, and there is a demand for it in our society,” he said.

Also Read: President Zelensky Announces Commencement of Counteroffensive Operations in Ukraine


  • Sadaf Hasan
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    Aspiring reporter covering trending topics

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