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13 Feb, 2024 19:05

Ukraine’s new top general reveals major change in strategy

Kiev has shifted to holding the line, Aleksandr Syrsky told German media
Ukraine’s new top general reveals major change in strategy

Ukraine has “transitioned” from offensive operations to strategic defense, General Aleksandr Syrsky has told the German TV channel ZDF in an interview published on Tuesday.

The interview was recorded several days before President Vladimir Zelensky appointed Syrsky commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, in place of the sacked General Valery Zaluzhny.

“The war is entering a new stage,” Syrsky told ZDF. “We have transitioned from offensive actions to conducting a defensive operation,” he added, in order to “exhaust the enemy and inflict maximum losses on them, using our fortifications, our technical advantages, unmanned aerial vehicles, electronic warfare systems, and prepared defense lines.”

The Ukrainian armed forces have turned to aerial and even ground drones to preserve the lives of troops, Syrsky said. 

“I’d rather leave a position, but I won’t allow the loss of personnel,” he told the German outlet. He alleged that Russia places “no value” on the lives of its troops, claiming that its losses are seven to eight times higher than Ukraine’s, according to Kiev’s estimates.

Multiple Western outlets, from the Washington Post to the New York Times, have highlighted Kiev’s shortage of frontline infantry as well as ammunition in recent weeks. According to the Times, Kiev is facing the very real prospect of “a cascading collapse along the front” unless the US sends military aid very soon.

The need to mobilize another 500,000 Ukrainians to replace the battlefield losses has exposed a rift between Zelensky and Zaluzhny, which resulted in the general’s sacking last week. Syrsky, the former commander of Ukrainian ground forces, is reportedly reviled by the troops, who consider him a bull-headed “butcher.” 

According to Politico, the soldiers have given Syrsky the nickname “General 200” (a reference to the code for killed in action, i.e. ‘General KIA’) because he had sacrificed so many lives in futile attempts to hold and then retake Artyomovsk (known as Bakhmut in Ukraine) last year.

Speaking to ZDF, Syrsky said Ukraine needs to build up domestic weapons and ammunition production to make up for the possible loss of external support. Kiev has become almost entirely dependent on the US and NATO, who have poured over $200 billion in weapons, equipment and ammunition to Ukraine over the past two years.

The general also confirmed that Kiev still considers reaching Ukraine’s 1991 borders as the main victory condition.

“Everything is based on the fact that we must end the war by reaching our borders. Other options are not considered because we simply have no other way out,” he said.

Moscow has repeatedly said that Ukraine recognizing Crimea, Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporozhye and Kherson as part of Russia is a prerequisite for any peace talks. 

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