Ukraine’s New General Was Trained to Fight Like Russia — Here’s Why That’s Bad

Wes O'Donnell
6 min readFeb 12, 2024
GENERAL Valerii Zaluzhnyi and COLONEL GENERAL Oleksandr Syrskyi during the Battle for Kyiv, 2022. CCA-4.0. Source

Ukraine’s military experienced a major shakeup last week — a decision that President Zelenskyy framed as a reset for the country’s stalled military momentum.

General Valery Zaluzhny, much beloved by the rank-and-file troops, has been replaced by Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi as the country’s new commander-in-chief. This decision comes as Ukraine’s ongoing conflict with Russia is about to enter its third year.

According to Politico, many of the troops reacted with despair.

“Syrskyi will kill us all,” said one soldier.

“We’re all fucked,” another posted to Twitter.

Syrskyi, also known as “the Butcher,” has been criticized in the past for his willingness to put Ukrainian troops needlessly at risk. This distinction is key: He’s called the Butcher because of what he does to his own men, not because of his lethality to the enemy.

Syrskyi’s military career, marked by his roles in the defense of Kyiv and the counteroffensive in Kharkiv, clearly shows that he’s no slouch when it comes to strategic thinking.

But his approach at the battle of Bakhmut has raised questions about the balance between achieving tactical victories and preserving the lives of Ukrainian soldiers.

Specifically, his decision to stay engaged in Bakhmut last year, despite heavy casualties and questionable strategic importance, reveals to us something crucial about Syrskyi’s leadership style: a readiness to engage in attritional warfare — just like the Russians.

Despite Russia’s failed attempt at military modernization, it is still very much a Soviet-style army that emphasizes massed armor assaults, artillery duels, and attritional warfare.

But when it comes to fighting wars, these two generals couldn’t be more different.

This is because General Valery Zaluzhny was a Western-trained General, including training with the US military between 2014 and 2022.

Zaluzhny adopted many American warfighting ‘best practices’ including kill chain optimization, speed and violence, maneuverability, air superiority, and a reliance on technology.

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Wes O'Donnell

Army & Air Force Veteran | Global Security guy at War is Boring, GEN, OneZero | Intel Forecaster | Law Student | TEDx Speaker | Pro-Democracy | Pro-Human Rights