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Expert: Zelenskyy would need to explain to Ukrainian people any dismissal of Gen. Zaluzhnyi

Rainer Saks on Monday's 'Ringvaade.'
Rainer Saks on Monday's 'Ringvaade.' Source: ERR

Talk of the possible replacement of Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, by President Volodymyr Zelensky is in and of itself a normal process in any democratic country, security expert Rainer Saks says.

On the other hand, Zelenskyy needs to explain credibly to the Ukrainian people any possible replacement of the popular defense chief.

President Zelenskiy asked Gen. Zaluzhnyi, to step down on Monday of last week, but the latter refused, triggering speculation that Zaluzhnyi may be dismissed instead, or even that the commander-in-chief is proving more popular than the president, at least in Ukraine itself.

Saks said that President Zelenskyy's plan is to make changes in the political leadership, as well as in Ukraine's defense forces' leadership.

The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine is now nearing its second anniversary.

Speaking to ETV's "Ringvaade" current affairs show Monday, Saks said: "It might be fair to assume that two years of work at this level of intensity can end up in a person being tired and spent. On the other hand, Zaluzhnyi certainly enjoys support and popularity among Ukrainians. So if the public don't understand why this change is being made, then President Zelenskyy and the political power can somehow get undermined, from the inside."

"However, President Zelenskyy has not directly said why he feels the need to replace the head of the defense forces. He has expanded the circle of individuals but has not said anything by specifically pointing the finger. The context is such, however, that all understand that he most likely wants to to appoint a new defense forces chief," Saks added.

Saks said that in assessing Zaluzhnyi's fatigue levels, one would have to bear in mind that in a democratic state, the president, the government and the legislature certainly have the right to appoint their defense chief, and not vice versa.

"This is a completely normal process, though you may still have to explain it to the public," Saks went on.

According to Saks, divergences of opinion could have arisen over the past year. "First of all, the failure of last year's much vaunted Ukrainian counter-offensive. The chief of defense however publicly took responsibility for this."

"He penned an article in the fall of last year in which he explained why it had failed, why he thought that was the case, and what needed to be done to move forward so that everything might work out for the better – and, Zaluzhnyi took responsibility for it," the expert said.

The second factor relates to mobilization, Saks went on. "With the failure of the counter-offensive, preparing for a lengthier war than initially expected is now needed. And for accomplish this, new units must be formed up. Those who are fighting now cannot fight forever. People get tired, and there are also threats that arise, then there are when you have a lot of men who have been at war for a very long time.

"For this reason, it has been noted that Ukraine's chief of defense has made veiled accusations against the government such that the war commissariat system has been shut down in Ukraine. But then again, the president did so in the main because it was a corrupt system and relict of the Soviet era," Saks continued.

"Events like these show that there are definitely some differences [of opinion between Zelenskyy and Zaluzhnyi] here. That said, I would like to stress that at this level, there have to be some differences of vision. It's not realistic for everyone to think exactly the same way, all the time," he went on.

Saks said that in any case, Zaluzhnyi has become a figurehead; a symbol of the courage, martial spirit and resistance of Ukraine's defense forces, which shouldn't be taken to mean that there aren't other leading military figures who are popular, too.

As for politicians, their popularity measured according to certain metrics, which the defense chief has not been measured on, on a continual basis.

"In any case it seems that he is very well-known, recognized and beloved so far as the public goes. I have never interacted with him myself personally, but those people who have done, say that he is actually a very affable and intelligent person," Saks concluded.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has admitted publicly for the first time that he is seeking to replace the country's most senior military commander, Valerii Zaluzhnyi. "A reset, a new beginning is necessary," Zelenskyy told the Italian outlet Rai News Sunday, The Guardian reports.

Rainer Saks is a former foreign ministry secretary general and a former director of the office of the president of Estonia. He regularly appears in the media to provide comment on Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

Source: 'Ringvaade,' interviewer Marko Reikop.

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