Author: Vasil Ghlonti



Facing challenges along the Ukrainian-Russian front, the Ukrainian authorities have made significant personnel changes in the country’s military leadership. President Zelensky made the decision to accept the resignation of General Valery Zaluzhny, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, in February 2024. General Alexander Sirsky was appointed as his replacement, taking over as the Commander of the Ground Forces.

In March, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Alexei Danilov, was dismissed and replaced by General Alexander Litvinenko, the former head of Ukraine’s foreign intelligence, while General Oleg Ivashchenko was appointed as the new Head of Foreign Intelligence. The changes in personnel started in 2022 with the appointment of General Vasili Maliuk as the head of the Security Service. Our blog aims to identify and analyze the reasons behind the significant personnel changes made by the Ukrainian authorities in defense and security. We also aim to predict the impact of these changes on the country, and how they might influence the current war in favour of Ukraine.

Problems facing the armed forces of Ukraine

In our estimation, the dismissal of General Valery Zaluzhny was largely influenced by the extensive counteroffensive conducted by the Ukrainian Armed Forces in 2023, an operation in which the Ukrainian government and its Western allies had placed great hope. This military operation, planned with significant input from high-ranking American and British military specialists, working alongside their Ukrainian counterparts, ended in failure. Despite substantial Western financial and military support, the Ukrainian armed forces were unable to achieve their objectives, or deliver satisfactory results, a situation exacerbated by disagreements between the Ukrainian and American military.

In our opinion, the American approaches and visions were accurate— they advised the Ukrainian military to focus on the southern direction, specifically on reclaiming the cities along the Azov Sea coast, among them Berdyansk, Melitopol and Mariupol, as well as the Crimea region on the Black Sea. Concentrating on the southern direction, however, would have exposed the eastern flanks, resulting in an inability to fully defend Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk, leading to their complete loss. The Ukrainian military justified their stance to their Western counterparts by highlighting Russia’s significant advantages in aviation, heavy artillery, and missile systems, which caused them serious problems and heavy losses during the counteroffensive.

To our mind, beyond the tactical disagreements between the Ukrainians and the Americans, their visions regarding the principles and methods of conducting hostilities were also different. The leadership of the Ukrainian army primarily consists of individuals trained in the Soviet military schools of the former USSR. This means that Ukrainian soldiers often thought and acted similarly to Russians on the battlefield. Consequently, a larger Soviet-style army would inevitably defeat its smaller former “brother” sooner or later.

To counter this, American and British military advisors attempted to retrain the Ukrainians in modern methods, although they have not succeeded thus far due to the limited time available. It is conceivable that the US political and military elite were convinced of the need for these changes and pressured President Zelensky to remove General Valery Zaluzhny.

Moreover, Zelensky himself was reportedly dissatisfied with Zaluzhny’s actions and recent statements, as the Ukrainian general had described the situation on the front line as problematic and a threat to Ukraine’s statehood. Although Zaluzhny later softened his harsh rhetoric, President Zelensky had already decided to dismiss him.

Against this background, Zaluzhny’s appointment as Ukraine’s Ambassador to Britain suggests that he will likely perform the functions of a military attaché rather than a traditional ambassador, overseeing the military assistance provided by Britain to Ukraine.

In this challenging reality, the appointment of Alexander Sirsky, a general born in the Vladimir region of Russia, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, caused no less controversy than the dismissal of Valery Zaluzhny. The fact that the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief has parents in Russia and graduated from the Moscow Higher Military School drew criticism from certain political factions within Ukraine.

However, we believe this criticism is misguided, as there are many ethnic Ukrainians serving in the Russian army who protect the interests of the Kremlin. It is worth noting that after Sirsky’s appointment as Commander-in-Chief, the situation on the front line did not improve; in fact, it worsened. While Sirsky alone cannot be blamed for the latter, as the Ukrainian army faces significant shortages in weapons, ammunition and human resources compared to their Russian counterparts, as we mentioned earlier, Sirsky is also a product of the Soviet military school, employing the same outdated tactics as the Russian military, thus hampering success on the battlefield. Soviet military tactics tend to involve the excessive use of human resources to compensate for technological shortcomings, an approach that has resulted in heavy casualties for both the Russian and Ukrainian militaries.

Against this backdrop, the dismissal of the Secretary of Defense and National Security and Defense Council, Alexey Danilov, on March 26, and the appointment of General Alexey Litvinenko, head of foreign intelligence, in his place, caused significant controversy. Unofficially, Danilov allegedly made an obscene remark to Li Hui, China’s special representative for Eurasian affairs, who had called on Ukraine to cede territories occupied by Russia. It is conceivable that Western influence played a role in Danilov’s removal too, as he had also openly accused the European and American allies of providing insufficient aid to Ukraine. Yet, the appointment of Alexander Litvinenko raises many questions, given his background; his having graduated from the cryptography academy of the Russian special service ‘FSB’ in Moscow. That said, he later received a specialized education in Great Britain. This dual background adds complexity to his role. Moreover, the appointment of Oleg Ivashchenko, a retired general from military intelligence, to replace Litvinenko as the head of foreign intelligence, indicates that Zelensky has special confidence in the main intelligence directorate of the Ministry of Defense. Notably, Ivashchenko previously served as the deputy head of military intelligence under Kirill Budanov. Interestingly, Zelensky was quick to dismiss the deputy head of foreign intelligence, Andrei Alekseenko, and appoint Oleg Lugovskoy in his place.

Given this context, it is uncertain how much the Ukrainian authorities will be able to improve their country’s situation with these personnel changes. While the newly appointed officials are experts in their fields, many still adhere to the outdated Soviet approach and may struggle to adopt modern Western methods. The success of Ukraine’s future efforts will largely depend on the military’s ability to align with Western standards.

In recent times, the Security Service of Ukraine, led by General Vasyly Maliuk since 2022, has been operating steadily. It is believed that, following Zelensky’s release of his childhood friend Ivan Bakanov, this service uncovered numerous Russian operatives. However, after the 2023 counterattack, President Zelensky stated that the Ukrainian counterattack plan had been in the possession of Putin’s administration before it was executed, indicating a significant failure in Ukrainian counterintelligence. Additionally, the number of unsuccessful operations run by the Special Operations Center of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine has been on the rise. Russian units have been intercepting Ukrainian special forces upon their arrival, leading to casualties. This suggests that Russian intelligence has infiltrated the Ukrainian military and special service circles, and it highlights the shortcomings of Ukrainian military counterintelligence. The replacement of the head of special operations forces, Colonel Sergey Lupanchuk with General Alexander Trepak, may be related to these developments.

Additionally, on May 1, 2024, President Vladimir Zelensky dismissed the head of the Cyber Security Department of the Security Service, Ilya Vytyuk, who is accused of purchasing elite housing with funds of unknown origin. This marks the second scandal within the Security Service resulting in the dismissal of a department head. A few months earlier, on January 16, the Ukrainian journalistic project ‘Bigus Info’ revealed that its participants had been illegally monitored and recorded by employees of the National Statehood Protection Department of the Security Service of Ukraine using high-quality special equipment. As a result, the head of the department, Roman Semenchenko, was dismissed, and the immediate perpetrators were sent to the front line to atone for their actions. The given incidents suggest that the Security Service of Ukraine is undergoing significant and painful processes. This is natural for a state at war and in the midst of reforms, where mistakes are inevitable.

Corruption is a separate and substantial issue in Ukraine.

We believe that President Zelensky should be concerned about the presence of such activities within the Security Service of Ukraine. The dismissal of a professional like Vasiliy Maliuk will undoubtedly be a significant loss for Zelensky. This is confirmed by the fact that, on May 7, 2024, the Security Service of Ukraine exposed and arrested two colonels of the State Guard of Ukraine. These colonels were planning to assassinate President Vladimir Zelensky, the head of military intelligence Kirill Budanov, and Vasyl Maliuk, on the instructions of the Russian FSB. Following this scandal, the head of the State Security Department of Ukraine, Sergei Rudy, was dismissed because one of the detainees, Colonel Andrey Guk, was a person close to him. It is possible that against this backdrop, the investigation will raise questions about Sergey Rudi himself. In our opinion, the Ukrainian special services’ ability to neutralize the Russian agency embedded in Ukraine at a high level will be of great importance for Ukraine’s victory over Russia.


According to our assessment, the complex processes in the field of defense and security in Ukraine have been primarily driven by the ongoing war with Russia and the challenges that emerged in the past year and at the beginning of 2024. Persistent issues at the front have placed the Ukrainian army in a precarious position, seeing the government needing to continue reforms and recruit new personnel under the challenging circumstances. However, in the reality of being at war with Russia, the Ukrainian authorities have been compelled to address difficult strategic objectives under extreme conditions. In our view, the personnel reshuffles conducted by Ukrainian authorities in defense and security will yield positive outcomes only if the newly appointed officials can effectively implement European and American management practices in the state structures under their purview. This is crucial for Ukraine, which aspires to EU membership. The successful adoption and utilization of Western management methods within state bodies will be pivotal for ensuring the success of European reforms, particularly in the vital areas of defense and security.

Undoubtedly, navigating these reforms during a conflict with one of the world’s largest military powers, the Russian army, will pose significant challenges. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian government is left with no alternative at this stage; its singular objective is to integrate into the civilized world by joining the European Union and NATO. Achieving this goal will require Ukraine accomplishing what may seem nearly impossible in practical terms.