“The most experienced general in Ukraine” according to Volodymyr Zelensky or a blow in the water in the eyes of Moscow, the appointment of Oleksandr Syrsky, former head of the army, to the post of commander-in-chief of Ukrainian forces at least have the merit of making people talk. But beyond loosening tongues, the hardest part now remains: bringing change and action in a conflict that is getting bogged down. This is undoubtedly what cost his predecessor, the very popular Valery Zalouzhny, the post. According to several senior sources, President Zelensky was growing impatient with the lack of progress on the front.
Oleksandr Syrsky does not have the fame of his predecessor. According to a survey published in December, 48% of respondents said they did not know him. Same lack of popularity within his own troops, where some consider him a man with Soviet training, little concerned about human losses, while others go so far as to describe him as a “butcher”. Visibly aware of the problem, General Syrsky assured this Friday that “the life and health of servicemen have always been and remain the main value of the Ukrainian army”, in his first statement after his appointment.
Exploits and challenges
In his defense, the new head of the Ukrainian army already has some great exploits under his belt: the defense of Kiev at the start of the Russian invasion almost two years ago, and the counter-offensive of the fall 2022 which had liberated the Kharkiv region. But to clear mines from the front, even greater challenges await.
Starting by replenishing the ranks of the army, which has lost, according to American estimates, 70,000 men killed and 120,000 wounded in two years. Valery Zalouzhny had asked the government to mobilize 500,000 people, but the decision was considered too unpopular by Ukrainian leaders. A bill aimed at broadening mobilization, the subject of much criticism, is currently being examined in Parliament.
Another major concern was to calm Russian attacks by building solid defenses. A titanic task, the front line being approximately 1,000 kilometers long and permanently under Russian fire, particularly in the East, at Avdiïvka and Koupiansk.
Finally, control of the sky is another challenge, as complex as it is vital for the continuation of the conflict. It remains to be seen whether Oleksandre Syrsky’s choice was the right one to hope to resolve these seemingly insoluble equations.