This is due in part to General Zaluzhny’s key role in the courageous, against-the-odds push of Russian forces in the first days of the invasion and to his popularity among his troops and civilians in Ukraine. But the general’s dismissal was surprising for another, more important reason. This marks a new and crucial stage in the war, a stage where Zelensky risks getting it wrong.
The differences between the actor-turned-politician and his powerful commander are due to culture and personality. After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, these differences became insignificant; in fact, they will become a fortress. In an inspiring example of Ukraine’s “networked” culture, each part of the country’s resistance focuses on its own role. Instead of exercising central control, Zelensky continues to act as patriot-in-chief, giving voice to his country’s defiant refusal to bow to Russian aggression. General Zaluzhny, who had actually been at war with Russia for years, focused on the fight. It was only when the Russian and Ukrainian armies dug in and the front lines stopped that these frictions began to wreak havoc.
It is no secret that, as their relationship worsened, the two men also argued about what to do on the battlefield. Zelensky and his administration blamed General Zaluzhny for last year’s failed counter-offensive. They want the Ukrainian army to prepare for new attacks and are forcing it to make war plans and take on the unpopular burden of mobilizing more troops.