What is next to Zelensky-Zaluzhny feud?


Amid his ongoing, very public spat with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s top commander has penned a new essay on how the country can avoid total economic and military collapse after cutbacks in NATO funding. Sputnik asked political and military analyst Sergei Poletayev about the essay’s contents, and who it’s addressed to.

CNN published Ukrainian Armed Forces commander-in-chief Valery Zaluzhny’s new treatise on Thursday, with the text filled with philosophical, historical and theoretical musings on the changing nature of warfare, and focused on how Kiev can get by with fewer resources as NATO weapons stocks run dry and funding dwindles.

The general envisioned the reconnaissance and strike potential of cheap drones as the keys to a new phase of the conflict against Russia, acknowledging his adversary’s impressive mobilization potential, slamming the “weakness” of the West’s anti-Russian sanctions measures, and outlining new objectives to “reduce the economic capabilities of the enemy, or to isolate, or wear him down.” The latter includes tackling “psychological objectives,” such as “sudden massive strikes against critical infrastructure facilities and communications hubs,” according to Zaluzhny.

“Perhaps the number one priority here is mastery of an entire arsenal of (relatively) cheap, modern and highly effective, unmanned vehicles and other technological means,” Zaluzhny wrote, emphasizing that “in short, this means nothing less than the wholesale redesign of battlefield operations – and the abandoning of outdated, stereotypical thinking.”

Zaluzhny’s shift in thinking comes after last year’s disastrous summer counteroffensive, in which some 159,000 Ukrainian servicemen were killed or injured after being pushed together with heavy NATO equipment into a head-on collision against heavily-entrenched Russian defensive positions, without adequate air support and in the face of overwhelming Russian artillery superiority. The counteroffensive ultimately stumbled, and then collapsed, with Zaluzhny himself admitting in an essay published by British media in November that there would be no “deep and beautiful breakthrough” and that the conflict had reached a “stalemate.

Who is Zaluzhny trying to reach in his new essay?

Zaluzhny is a unique figure in the Ukrainian establishment in that he is the only person besides President Zelensky with his own “media resource, that is, direct access to the West,” Russian political and military observer Sergei Poletaev, co-founder of the Vatfor media project, told Sputnik.

According to Poletaev, there are two factors motivating Zaluzhny’s move to pen a new essay for Western audiences.

“Firstly, Zaluzhny needs to show that he is effective in the role of commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and that he has a plan for what to do in the coming year and beyond. A significant chunk of his essay is devoted to this. The West doesn’t know what to do following the failure of Ukraine’s counteroffensive. They need some kind of plan for which, roughly speaking, Kiev will be able to go and get more money. Here, Zaluzhny is trying to show his plan and convince Western audiences that he is the man who can implement it,” the observer explained, pointing out that the essay’s publication in CNN clearly signals that its intended addressees are “Kiev’s sponsors…i.e. the people who give Ukraine money.”

For Russia, there’s little new or surprising in Zaluzhny’s treatise, Poletaev emphasized, pointing out that Moscow is aware that NATO is running out of missiles to give Ukraine, knows that the West cannot produce the shells Kiev requires fast enough, and can clearly see that direct military assistance is declining and will continue to decline.

“The second motivation is of a more general nature, and it seems that Zaluzhny feels ‘cramped’ in his commander’s chair … he imagines himself as kind of a new von Clausewitz, a great military theorist, and therefore engages in writing such texts of more of a philosophical and theoretical nature,” the observer said.

Unlike his November essay for the Economist, in which Zaluzhny effectively called on the West to send Ukraine new weapons and fantastical equipment, which hasn’t been invented yet, this time around, “his essay is much more down to earth,” Poletaev noted, “boiling down to a demand for more drones and more people.

Presto Zelensky replacement?

Poletaev doesn’t believe the CNN essay was timed for release amid the revival of the bitter, highly-personalized Zaluzhny-Zelensky clash, given the time needed for such a text to be written and passed through editing and being translated.

At the same time, however, Poletaev doesn’t rule out that Zaluzhny is being set up as an instant replacement for Zelensky, should Ukrainian support for the civilian leadership crumble completely.

“Let’s think about it. An incompetent, corrupt civilian government, an impoverished population, the collapse of everything imaginable in the country, even if we leave the armed conflict out of the equation. The army, on the other hand, is the most popular and most capable institution of the state, and has a popular, charismatic general at the helm. This is a ready-made set of hints for any third world country, which Ukraine is part of, for a military coup to take place,” the observer noted.

On the other hand, Ukraine today “is under fairly tight, not absolute, but very close control of the West,” the observer said, and “a coup at this moment under the initiative of the Ukrainian military would be very unprofitable for the Americans,” Poletaev stressed.

Ultimately, whatever happens next in the Zelensky-Zaluzhny feud, Poletaev believes Washington will continue to play, or at least try to play, the decisive role in Ukraine’s political future.

“I don’t believe Valery Zaluzhny is like Hafizullah Amin, who carried out a military coup in Afghanistan, overthrew and killed his predecessor, and simply presented the USSR with a fait accompli. I don’t think this is an option. Firstly, because in Ukraine there is no tradition of military coups, and, secondly, because even though the United States is not in the best shape right now, it still accounts for the middle and lower levels of the colonial bureaucracy in Ukraine, which still works quite effectively. What does this mean? It means that somewhere in the State Department or the Pentagon there are people who can pick up the phone, call, listen attentively and offer at least verbal support.”

That leaves three possibilities, according to Poletaev: that Zaluzhny vacates his post voluntarily without loss of face, that he is fired, or that he stays on as the military’s commander-in-chief, leaving Zelensky with a subordinate who is not very subordinate.


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