The expansion of recruitment of soldiers for war and the strategy to achieve it has widened the gap between the head of the Ukrainian armed forces, Valery Zaluzhni, and the president, Volodymyr Zelensky. General Zaluzhni challenged the Ukrainian leader on Tuesday, criticizing the government’s strategy to extend appeal conditions to fight Russian aggression. “I am not satisfied with the work of the (recruitment offices),” Zalouzhni said during a rare press conference in kyiv. Russia’s war against Ukraine has become a battle of attrition, and as it enters its third year of fighting, few volunteers are willing to go to the front as several waves of forced conscription have been launched in Russia .
Zaluzhni was once again very critical on Tuesday about the situation in Ukraine. “I made a mistake in thinking that for Russia this would help put an end to the losses we have caused them,” the head of the armed forces said. This is the second public friction between the army chief and Zelensky. A few weeks ago, at The Economist, Zaluzhni admitted that the situation on the front had stagnated, it was very difficult for Ukraine to advance, and the counter-offensive had failed. He also criticized the pace of recruiting, calling it too slow. The government categorically disavowed his comments. Last week, Zelensky further pointed out that Zaluzhni – whose popularity has soared in recent months, while the president’s popularity plummeted after the failure of the counter-offensive in which Kiev and its allies had placed huge hopes – was also responsible for results on the battlefield. .
The new public disagreement between two of the main figures of the Ukrainian leadership comes as Zelensky’s executive presented to the Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) a war decree through which he seeks to increase the number of soldiers in the army. The proposed regulation, which will be debated and modified, expands the conditions and characteristics of men who can be mobilized – women only enlist voluntarily – and lowers the minimum age to do so from 27 to 25 years.
Last week, during the annual press conference in which he reviewed the situation in the country, Zelensky assured that the army had requested up to half a million additional recruits for the mobilization, but stressed that the number and conditions still needed to be debated. However, Zaluzhni assured Tuesday that this figure only represents a general plan that will be implemented gradually. “I cannot say to what extent: it is a military secret,” declared the head of the Armed Forces during the conference broadcast on television. This will be, he specified, a “figure which includes compensation for losses, the training of new units and the replacement of possible losses next year”. The head of the armed forces also said that he leaves to the government the idea of recruiting Ukrainians from abroad as well, as the Defense Ministry plans to do.
For Ukraine, increasing military personnel is a priority. kyiv has not made public information on the number of people in its forces – which are made up of several corps – but specialist analysts estimated the figure at one million at the start of the full-scale war. Since then, the Ukrainian army has suffered losses. Unlike in the early stages of the invasion, few people are currently enlisting. In most cities far from the battlefield, war doesn’t have the same feel. Furthermore, several cases of corruption detected among recruitment leaders in several regions, who received bribes in exchange for service exemptions, have sown indignation which does not help to swell the ranks.
On the Donbass front in eastern Ukraine, the vast majority of soldiers have not taken time off to return home for months. Many are exhausted. “It becomes very hard, the physical and mental fatigue is sometimes overwhelming,” recognizes Kostya, a tank driver, in a coffee kiosk full of soldiers, a few kilometers from the Bakhmut front, one of the most active.
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Russia, meanwhile, has turned around, concluding robust defenses and continues to launch waves of soldiers in attacks against the Ukrainian line and push in an attempt to gain a few meters. Analysts and Ukrainian military officials say Moscow is using its own soldiers as bait. Ukraine says that only with new weapons sent by its allies, more powerful and technologically superior, can it turn a corner in the battle. But the EU, which hopes to approve a special 50 billion euro aid package to keep Ukraine afloat and help the country meet current expenses, is grappling with its own problems producing munitions at the pace Ukraine needs. Furthermore, so far the weapons that member states have sent to Ukraine have covered the needs very closely. The United States is a similar case. Washington has now blocked 50 billion euros (part of which could be devoted to defense spending) due to its internal struggles (notably on the part of the Republicans).
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