Tuesday
April 23, 2024

Rift within Ukraine over its War Strategy

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By: Pinkle Gogoi, Research Analyst, GSDN

Ukraine: source Encyclopaedia Britannica

Introduction

The analysis aptly underscores the pivotal role corruption plays in Ukraine’s current challenges and its ability to effectively navigate its existential crisis. While corruption may not be the sole problem facing the country, its pervasive nature exacerbates other issues and erodes vital domestic and international support.

The recent corruption scandal, coupled with reported rifts within Ukraine’s power structure, further diminishes confidence in the country’s ability to overcome its challenges and maintain Western support. Without tangible progress in combating corruption, doubts about Ukraine’s credibility in avoiding defeat or achieving victory persist, potentially jeopardizing future aid and weakening support for pro-Western and pro-European agendas.

Corruption scandal

Moreover, corruption’s corrosive effects extend beyond domestic politics to the broader perception of Ukraine’s European future. Western support may increasingly be viewed as bolstering a corrupt elite rather than fostering genuine democratic reforms and economic development.

Ukraine has set an ambitious military objective for this year. However, it’s the third year of the country’s full-scale conflict with Russia, marking a decade since Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the initiation of a conflict in eastern Ukraine. Despite initial despair at the onset of the attack and subsequent hopes for a swift reversal, the current frontline situation suggests a year of stagnation.

Ukrainian soldiers are facing exhaustion, and the military is grappling with shortages of artillery ammunition and air defense rockets. Furthermore, critical weapons such as F-16 fighter jets and the U.S.-made MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) have yet to arrive in substantial numbers.

In addition to the precariousness of ongoing western support, Zelensky faces increased vulnerability domestically. Repeated high-profile corruption scandals undermine one of his fundamental election promises from 2019, to eradicate graft.

While the Ukrainian President has taken steps to strengthen anti-corruption agencies and has been transparent about the ongoing challenges Ukraine faces, his continued crackdown can now also be interpreted as politically motivated by his domestic critics. This is likely to exacerbate and solidify political divisions within Ukraine. At a time when there is already a highly contentious debate over war strategy and when disagreements between the country’s political and military leaderships are becoming more pronounced, this is the last thing Zelensky needs.

Rift between the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and General Valery Zaluzhny, Commander-in-Chief, Ukrainian Armed Forces

For over a year, the elites in Kyiv frequently confronted decisions regarding their allegiance, aligning either with President Volodymyr Zelensky or his chief military commander, General Valery Zaluzhny. These tensions often unfolded discreetly, primarily within the confines of the President’s war room, sparking concerns of a potential rift within the nation’s leadership that could imperil its efforts in the conflict against Russia.

However, when Zelensky ultimately relieved the General of his duties, Zaluzhny remained silent initially. The photographs shared on the presidential website depicted the two individuals embracing and sharing smiles as Zelensky conferred upon General Zaluzhny Ukraine’s most prestigious military accolade, the Hero of Ukraine award.

Their disagreement could have concluded much less cordially. Zaluzhny holds the position of the nation’s most revered figure, credited extensively with safeguarding the country during the initial stages of the Russian invasion. Certain advisors had encouraged him to contemplate running against Zelensky for the presidency. Conversely, some of the president’s close associates cautioned that dismissing the general might estrange a significant portion of the officer ranks, potentially leading to a defense of their commander. Consequently, this division presented the most substantial internal challenge to Zelensky’s leadership during wartime. Yet, it now seems he has effectively resolved it.

At the onset of the invasion in February 2022, President Zelensky delegated significant authority to his generals to oversee battlefield operations, allowing him to concentrate on diplomatic efforts aimed at securing substantial military and financial support from international allies. However, as time progressed, the President and his advisors began to formulate their own strategic vision for Ukraine’s defense, which didn’t always align with General Zaluzhny’s perspective. Disagreements arose regarding the necessity of conscripting around 500,000 troops into the military, as well as the general’s choice to declare a stalemate along the frontlines last autumn.

One of their earliest disagreements revolved around Snake Island, a small piece of land in the Black Sea that the Russians seized in the initial days of the invasion. According to sources familiar with the Ukrainian response, Zelensky advocated for a military operation in the spring of 2022 to reclaim the island, viewing it as a demonstration of strength against the Russians and a means to safeguard crucial shipping lanes in the Black Sea. However, General Zaluzhny expressed reservations, believing that the operation posed undue risks to soldiers and military equipment, which he prioritized for other sectors of the front. Ultimately, Zelensky’s position prevailed. The operation, spanning over two months and involving multiple attempts to retake the island, finally ousted the Russian occupiers in June 2022.

A parallel disagreement unfolded that summer regarding the location for a significantly more ambitious counteroffensive. In collaboration with his U.S. and European counterparts, General Zaluzhny conducted a series of virtual war simulations to evaluate different offensive strategies. Ultimately, he settled on an ambitious proposal to advance southward towards Crimea, with the objective of rupturing Russia’s primary lines of defense. This plan necessitated meticulous planning, along with substantial reserves of weaponry and personnel. However, the president’s office favoured a swifter approach, one that could swiftly showcase Ukraine’s capacity to reclaim territory.Top of Form

Satellite imagery and intelligence analysis revealed that the Russian defenses were most vulnerable not in the south, towards Crimea, but in the northeast, particularly around the city of Kharkiv. Zelensky pressed his top commander to initiate an offensive in the direction of Kharkiv. However, Zaluzhny resisted, contending that such a manoeuvre would prove to be a costly diversion from the critical thrust towards the south. By the onset of autumn, Zelensky once again opted to overrule the general and authorized the Kharkiv offensive to proceed, with command entrusted to Ukraine’s second-highest-ranking officer, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrsky.

The operation exceeded expectations. In September 2022, Ukrainian forces successfully recaptured the Kharkiv region from the Russians, compelling thousands of fleeing Russian troops in the face of the advancing forces under General Syrsky’s leadership. Subsequently, Zelensky journeyed to the battlefield to rendezvous with Syrsky and hoist a flag over the liberated city of Izyum.Top of Form

Rumours swiftly circulated among high-ranking officials that the President aimed to remove General Zaluzhny from his position and appoint Syrsky as his successor. True to speculation, the president executed this decision after hesitating for over a year, primarily due to apprehensions that acting against Zaluzhny could adversely affect morale among the military ranks. Additionally, the President’s office harboured concerns that Zaluzhny might opt to pursue a political career, posing a direct challenge to Zelensky’s leadership.

Throughout the duration of the Russian invasion, opinion polls have consistently indicated that Zelensky and Zaluzhny are by far the two most popular leaders in the country. A survey conducted in December by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology revealed that Zaluzhny commands the trust of 88% of Ukrainians. Meanwhile, trust in the President stood at 62%, a notable decline from 84% recorded a year earlier.

Conclusion

In the context of an ongoing war, the implications of corruption become even more dire. It not only undermines critical domestic institutions and erodes public trust but also weakens Ukraine’s position on the international stage, making it more vulnerable to external threats.

Addressing corruption, therefore, remains paramount for Ukraine’s survival and long-term stability. Efforts to combat corruption must be accompanied by visible reforms and a commitment to transparency, not only to mitigate the immediate effects of corruption but also to rebuild trust and secure continued support from both domestic and international stakeholders.

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1 month ago

Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post. Many thanks for providing these details.

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