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Raag: Russia sure to take advantage of Ukraine's commander-in-chief discord

Ilmar Raag.
Ilmar Raag. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

As stories circulate in the media that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy intends to swap out Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Russia is certainly trying to play up what's happening around the popular general and use it to their own advantage, Estonian reserve officer Ilmar Raag said on ETV's "Ukraina stuudio" on Sunday.

There have been conflicting messages coming out of Ukraine regarding Zaluzhnyi's dismissal as commander-in-chief, sparking questions about whether this may be a Russian information operation meant to produce the illusion of a rivalry between the Ukrainian president and the commander-in-chief.

According to Raag, it's worth distinguishing between two factors here: one is what is actually happening between the two – and there is reason to believe there's a grain of truth to the rumors, as high-ranking officers in Ukraine are discussing how to manage under a new commander-in-chief.

"Second is the fact that regardless of whether it's true or false, it's being exploited in various information operations, because the purpose of war is to impose one's own will upon the enemy," he continued.

"And the final point is that when a person decides to give up, then that is a mental decision," the Estonian reserve officer explained. "And that can be influenced using a strong information flow as well as weapons. And if it's possible to claim that Ukraine's leadership is in a panic and doesn't know what to do – all these messages that Russia would employ in such a case – then clearly they'll do so regardless."

He added that insofar as Zaluzhnyi is currently clearly more popular among the people than Zelenskyy, their rivalry is a problem for Ukraine that the enemy is now trying to play up even further.

Asked whether such a conflict could impact morale among enlisted troops, Raag replied that it may not have much effect initially, as a soldier's mind is moreso on the battlefield.

"For a lot of troops on the front, their world becomes very small – the tactical battlefield that they can see," he explained. "And at some point, what is happening in Kyiv feels more like a matter for the men in Kyiv, and it doesn't concern the conflict [they] have with the enemy located just on the other side of that hill or river."

He did, however, acknowledge that such cases may begin to affect mobilization in the long term.

According to Raag, mobilization in Ukraine has evidently reached the point where those most willing to defend and with the best skills are already on or have already fallen on the battlefield, and now it has gotten to those who won't resist being mobilized, but who didn't sign themselves up to serve either.

"Ukraine is serious about mobilization," he said, underscoring the fact that various estimates put its losses at at least 100,000 men.

"Ukraine is sociologically nearing the limit to which volunteers will go to war at all," the reserve officer continued. "Next will be the men who wouldn't go themselves, but won't defy the state either. The Ukrainian military's own assessment is that their finest have already fallen, and that those who have come to replace them, their willingness to defend [Ukraine] is weaker."

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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