Ukrainians were possibly not so surprised when Zelensky ultimately made the announcement to sack Ukraine’s hero, the Military Chief Zaluzhnyi. That the two top architects, who have pulled Ukraine back from the brink of a defeat, were no longer as thick as the leadership in the war room of a country at war ought to be, has been evident for some time.
Zaluzhnyi was catapulted to the top in 2021 by superseding senior Ukrainian Generals. He proved his metal and his professional skills when he turned the tables on the Russians. In 2022, when the Russians intelligence assessed the probability of Ukrainians launching a counter offensive to the south, Zaluzhnyi wheeled his forces further North and pushed the Russians back in the areas of Kharkiv.
Zaluzhnyi mustered his forces again and attacked south driving Russian back. His reputation as an astute commander grew and the world looked forward to more from him in the summer of 2023.
He had approximately 12 to 15 brigades trained by NATO and the US for an offensive that was projected to be the one to smash Russian defences. However, Russian defences were laid out in multiple layers with dense minefields ahead.
Further, the need in today’s battlefield is an all domain capability. Zaluzhnyi hardly had an air force that could cross the borders and engage military targets in depth. A huge gap in the inventory of a military trying to breakthrough the defensive lines of a superpower. There were shortages too, in terms of ammunition and specialised equipment. The Ukrainian attacks petered out. The situation along the frontline, as on date, can at best be described as a stalemate.
The new Chief is Syrskyi, previously the land forces commander. Generals of the Ukrainian army have enough operational experience by now. However, the same cannot be said of NATO or the US, apparently. Irrespective of whoever commands the Ukrainian forces, unhinging the Russian defences and achieving a breakthrough can only happen when the Ukrainians have a strong enough air force for depth degradation of Russian military assets.
As it stands, the Russians are likely to press home their advance in the eastern sector. The Black Sea route that Ukraine has been able to open, will remain so. Attempts at ceasefire will possibly find more strident voters. However, decisive domination of the battlefield with General Syrskyi leading the Ukrainian charge, is barely on the cards.
Brig SK Chatterji (Retd)