Person of the week: Zalushnyj: The hero general who defeated Russia

Person of the week: Zalushnyj: The hero general who defeated Russia
Person of the week: Zalushnyj: The hero general who defeated Russia

The supreme commander of the Ukrainian armed forces, Valeriy Zalushnyi, is a cunning, cunning general. He teaches the Russian invaders one disgrace after another. Now he leads an amazing counter-offensive and becomes a national hero with a future.

The counter-offensive of the Ukrainian army reports astounding successes. The reconquest of large areas of land in eastern Ukraine could even mean the turning point in the war. Hope is burgeoning everywhere, in Ukraine, in the West, in the Russian opposition, on the world stock exchanges. Behind the coup of the Ukrainian army is a clever general who has been driving the Russians to despair with all sorts of bluffs for months now. The 49-year-old Valeriy Saluschnyj is the supreme commander of the Ukrainian army and is rapidly becoming a national hero in Ukraine.

In January, Zalushnyi was asked in Brussels whether he was concerned about the Russian superiority. Zalushny replied that he was indeed concerned, “but only once, in 2014, when I was first given a machine gun and a bulletproof vest and went to war after the annexation of Crimea.” After that “it was just work”.

Shortly before the outbreak of war, he made people sit up and take notice. The Russians would be welcomed, he said, “not with flowers, but with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.” And he added curtly: “Welcome to hell.” The self-confidence he displayed initially sounded like propaganda, but nobody underestimates him anymore.

Zalushny democratized army

It is Zalushny’s work that the Ukrainian troops not only show heroic morale in battle, but – unlike the sluggish Russian army – also react tactically quickly and flexibly and skillfully use Western weapons. The general is the first Ukrainian supreme commander who was no longer trained in the Soviet Union. He embodies the far-reaching reform of the Ukrainian military since 2014. One of his first acts was to give officers in the field more autonomy, decreeing a kind of democratization and allowing soldiers at the front to return fire without consulting top leadership .

At the same time, Zalushnyj developed a partisan concept that organizes flexible resistance even behind enemy lines, that includes the civilian population in the resistance, and that uses modern drones systematically. “The general has formed a lively, decentralized, digitally equipped surprise force from an old Soviet bloc army. It’s as if a phone booth is competing against modern cell phones,” military experts say. In an interview Zalushnyj once said: “We want to get away from maps and writing battle orders like in 1943.” Now the irony of the story is that he is now fighting an enemy that looks more like 1943 than 2022.

It was also Zalushnyj who did not want to stop the Russian invasion troops directly at the border, but rather – like General Kutuzov during Napoleon’s Russian invasion – first let them advance into the country, attacked the supply lines, isolated them and then launched mass guerrilla attacks on the tank formations and drone squadrons.

A bluff also preceded the present counter-attack near Kharkiv, since Sulishny made the Russians believe that the attack would mainly be in the south near Cherson, thus enticing them to regroup. In fact, he then chose to attack on the flank, which was now exposed and behind which the broad river Oskil made no Russian supplies possible.

Proud of the good training of the soldiers

Zalushnyj has been promoting the training of his soldiers on western weapon systems for years. In particular, he uses NATO’s satellite reconnaissance data as if it were his own reconnaissance aircraft. He integrated modern Western weapon systems into his warfare early on. Above all, he relied on mass anti-tank missiles and made training on them a central part of his war preparations. That should pay off at the moment of the Russian tank invasion. “The enemy must also understand well: We have enough anti-tank weapons,” he warned the Russians at the beginning of the year, both laconic and self-confident.

Before the war broke out, Zalushnyj repeatedly sent the Ukrainian army on maneuvers with NATO partners, and he maintains close personal contact with British and American generals. In an interview with the “ukrinform” news agency, he proudly said that his soldiers have now mastered more than 300 NATO standards. “I don’t want to criticize anyone, but as far as I know, not all the armed forces of the European countries that are already members of the alliance have mastered such a set of standards.”

When Zalushnyj finished school in the small town of Novohrad-Wolinski west of Kyiv in 1989, Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union. During this period of upheaval, he followed in the footsteps of his father, also a career officer. He attended the prestigious military academy in Odessa and graduated with honors from officer training in the ground forces in 1997. As of 2014, Zalushny served almost non-stop in the embattled Donetsk region. He commanded a brigade that suffered some of the bloodiest combat of the war near Debaltseve, with many Ukrainian casualties. When he was promoted to major general in 2017, he deliberately stayed on the eastern Ukrainian front. He knows every moat there and, precisely because he is fearless and battle-hardened himself, enjoys the highest reputation among the troops. “I’m proud and thankful for every Ukrainian soldier. It’s an honor for me to fight alongside you,” Zalushnyy wrote on social media.

General has chances for presidency

In the meantime, Zalushny is not only a role model from the point of view of the soldiers, but also a national hero for the majority of Ukrainians. Many even believe the popular general is capable of succeeding the current prime minister, Volodymyr Zelensky, at some point after the end of the war – especially if the counteroffensive ends up culminating in a victory over Russia.

A poll by the news magazine Ukrainska Pravda showed that if there were elections at the moment, the Commander-in-Chief would be elected president. And he already sounds like an upcoming president when he swears by the unity of the Ukrainian nation: “I would like to appeal to all those politicians who make ‘assessments’ of the operational situation from the cities in the hinterland. With their irresponsible claims, for example that the enemy took something without problems or that the country’s surrender is being prepared, you insult our soldiers,” he said. “We stopped the enemy from all sides. We inflicted him with losses such as he has never seen or imagined. All Ukrainians know this. The world knows it. I appeal to you: do not humiliate our soldiers with your ‘ Expert assessments’. You’re not on the front lines now. And it’s not your children. We’re protecting Ukraine.”

The fact that the father of two, Saluschnyj, thinks outside the box of the military is also shown by a sympathetic statement about the victims of the war. At a forum honoring fallen soldiers and veterans in Kyiv, he rarely openly declared that almost 9,000 military personnel had died on the Ukrainian side so far. Saluschny appealed to help the families and especially the children of the dead. “They don’t really understand anything about what’s happening and they absolutely need protection when their father went to the front and was one of the almost 9,000 heroes killed,” said Zalushnyj. He himself rejects all political ambitions, gives almost no interviews and concentrates on his craft. He is a soldier and has one task – to defeat Russia.

The article is in German

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