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Zelensky replaces top commander, Zaluzhny, with military intelligence chief

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KYIV — Ukraine’s top commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, appeared to be officially removed Thursday night — the latest twist in a drawn-out saga between him and President Volodymyr Zelensky, who told the military chief 10 days ago that he was being dismissed.

But Zelensky did not immediately name a successor as commander in chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, fueling further uncertainty over who will lead the difficult fight against Russia’s continuing invasion.

In posts on both Zelensky’s and Zaluzhny’s social media accounts, the two men posed shaking hands and smiling. “A decision was made about the need to change approaches and strategy,” Zaluzhny wrote.

Zelensky’s post said that he “thanked” Zaluzhny, 50, for “two years of protecting Ukraine.” He added that in their meeting Thursday, they discussed “updated leadership” for Ukraine’s military.

“The time for such an update is now,” Zelensky wrote.

One leading candidate is Ukraine’s head of military intelligence, 38-year-old Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov. His appointment would potentially signal a move toward asymmetric tactics — such as the drone strikes deep into Russian territory that Budanov has often ordered — in a war where the front lines have seen little change in more than a year. But Budanov, with a background in special forces, does not have experience as an army commander.

Another option is Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, the 58year-old commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, who was credited with leading the defense of Kyiv in the first month of the war and then orchestrating a successful counteroffensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region in fall 2022. But among rank-and-file soldiers, Syrsky is especially disliked, considered by many to be a Soviet-style commander who kept forces under fire too long in the eastern city of Bakhmut when Ukraine should have withdrawn.

It’s possible both men will be promoted together. An official presidential decree from Zelensky announcing Zaluzhny’s removal is expected Thursday.

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