Ukrainian MP on rumors about military personnel reshuffle – interview

Valeriy Zaluzhnyi and Oleksandr Syrskyi (right)
Valeriy Zaluzhnyi and Oleksandr Syrskyi (right)

Recent media reports spread rumors about a potential dismissal of three senior Ukrainian military commanders: Commander of the Tavria front Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, Commander of the Joint Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Serhiy Nayev, and Commander of the Medical Forces Tetiana Ostaschenko.

Roman Kostenko, Secretary of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) Defense Committee, explained in an interview with NV Radio on Nov. 14 what he knows about possible new personnel reshuffle in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, whether there are possible disputes between the President’s Office and the General Staff, and what problems the soldiers are facing at the front.

NV: What do you think, are we really talking about just baseless speculation?

Kostenko: First of all, the question is what we want to clarify. If we’re talking about whether the President’s Office had such a plan, for example, we’ll never know about it. Unless some advisor to the President’s Office says it again live.

For example, when I saw how it was spreading, I talked to [Defense Minister] Rustem Umerov. He told me directly that they didn’t have such plans [as of Nov. 13]. He said it was speculation.

Read also: Defense Ministry denies plans to dismiss three senior military commanders

But we see that the Defense Ministry wrote information about this only around midnight that it’s necessary to maintain [information] hygiene. Of course, I think it would have been necessary [to do] earlier.

We constantly have a problem in the Defense Ministry that it’s precisely the information direction that is limping. And everything was quite bad under Hanna Malyar [the former deputy defense minister] when she was there. And now I think it’s also necessary to communicate faster so that those who wanted to take advantage of this issue don’t spread it in such a way. This is on the one hand.

On the other hand, the question... of course, it would be very important [to communicate] when they [media reports] said about Nayev that they wanted to arrest him directly.

In general, the issue of removing commanders, according to the law, is a matter for the president and the commander-in-chief. According to the law on National Security. And it’s very important what we talked about when [the commander of the Special Operations Forces] General Viktor Khorenko was removed is to communicate directly with these generals. And it’s important, of course, [to communicate] with the Commander-in-Chief [of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valerii Zaluzhnyi]. Although it’s not prescribed in the law, it’s very important, especially during the war.

Perhaps it’s even necessary to look at how to do it correctly in the legislation so that the commander-in-chief is at least clearly informed. So that it doesn’t happen in such a way that they wanted to and just removed without notice.

NV: If we look at the situation from the President’s Office. What could be the reasons for replacing Nayev?

Kostenko: There are several reasons. I can’t name them all now, let’s still maintain information hygiene. And I don’t want to stoke the notions of “betrayal,” let’s say so. But there are reasons.

We know that there are still some issues of inconsistency between the President’s Office and the commander-in-chief. And recently, more and more information has been spreading about what we have, let’s say, groups, different Armed Forces, they’re called two separate armies among the military.

I’m telling you information from the trenches. There is an army of one general and there is an army of another one. Of course, this cannot be allowed. What’s the army’s strength? Its singular leadership. One commander and execution of orders by others subordinate to him.

It cannot be the case that there is a commander-in-chief, while some group is subordinated more directly to the supreme commander. All management must go through the commander-in-chief. Sometimes this breaks down in our armed forces, and it cannot be allowed.

Read also: Defense Minister Umerov refutes rumors of attempting to sack Zaluzhnyi

And most of all, it’s necessary for the supreme commander-in-chief [Volodymyr Zelenskyy], for example, to not have any favorite or unpopular officers in the army. I think that professionals should fight on the battlefield and lead them.

We have the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, we have the General Staff. All other forces, units, and created groups must be subordinate.

The president isn’t a military professional. The commander-in-chief has never been engaged in this. Before the war, before the presidency, he was engaged in other matters not related to the war. Therefore, he should be engaged in international relations and simply control, coordinate things.

Namely, the professional military should be engaged in battles.

Of course, war in general is already a matter for lawmakers, politicians, diplomats, and the government. It’s already a broader concept.

NV: When you talk about two armies, do you mean that there is one army of Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and the other is that of the commander of the Ground Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, General Oleksandr Syrskyi? Did I understand you correctly?

Kostenko: Yes, there are such jokes. There are such jokes both in the trenches and in the offices. Of course, it’s not visible, but the military themselves joke about it. But this shouldn’t be the case.

NV: Can we say the contradictions that may escalate are precisely due to the fact that we didn’t achieve the result we wanted on the battlefield during the summer-autumn campaign?

Kostenko: I wouldn’t like to talk about contradictions. I said my opinion. I said about what the military thinks, that, indeed, it exists and must be corrected. This should be corrected by the supreme commander. And do it clearly. This should be corrected by other people who are trying, let’s say, to somehow divide it.

Only a unified Ukrainian army can win [the war].

Read also: Special forces commander Khorenko dismissed at Umerov’s request, President’s Office says

And the reasons for the contradictions are different, including the ones you mentioned. But I would, of course, talk less about it.

We need to do everything to have a united army fighting for Ukraine. So that no one stands out, fights separately, or carries out any operations separately. So that no one should ever grant any other favors or give any greater opportunities to anyone.

It’s important to do it now. And this task, first of all, is for the president to unite all the Armed Forces, all the Defense Forces and direct them in one direction.

NV: An article by U.S. journalist Simon Shuster published in Time magazine caused a wide discussion. He wrote that certain dismissals are being prepared both in the General Staff, i.e., in the military leadership, and in the Cabinet of Ministers. We saw the dismissal of commander of the Special Operations Forces Viktor Khorenko and Sports Minister Vadym Gutzeit. Does this mean that we should prepare for more dismissals?

Kostenko: I don’t think Shuster was talking specifically about the commander of the Special Operations Forces because it was a question about people who influenced the counteroffensive.

I think the commander of the Special Operations Forces did his job, he did it correctly… He’s not someone who could be responsible for the counteroffensive.

But I say once again that this is a matter for the defense minister and supreme commander-in-chief.

NV: Then I want to take advantage of the fact that you have direct access to Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, he is your former colleague from the Holos (Voice) parliamentary faction. What does Umerov say about this media hype, which has appeared a lot both around the military command and around who has disputes with whom? What are his impressions?

Kostenko: We don’t talk that often because he’s always busy. When it’s necessary for work, we call each other or write about some issues. But it takes time to discuss in detail. He’s now in a formative period and he doesn’t have enough time for anything, so I won’t comment on his vision.

He’s now in a very difficult situation. The defense minister during the war, especially appointed during the war. He must choose what to figure out.

And the hype... We understand that something is an information campaign against the generals, against the Defense Ministry. Some are Russian disinfo campaigns, and some, indeed, probably have some substance to them. Perhaps the President’s Office is planning a reshuffle. Again: it’s their right.

If there is a reason, it should be done if we see that some general is incapable.

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I’ve always supported the military, but also common sense. If we fire someone, if someone doesn’t work properly, we must come out and say so. But not as it was with Khorenko, i.e., just a [message] in the media. And there is a commander-in-chief who will confirm this, there is a defense minister, and there is a supreme commander-in-chief. They replaced a certain general, put him in another position, and appointed someone in his place who, in their opinion, would be able to fulfill the assigned tasks.

There is nothing [bad] here. It’s just that we now perceive dismissals as some kind of betrayal. No. People are replaced. And I often see people being replaced in my unit. And it’s normal, sometimes more effective people arrive.

It’s not a betrayal. But it’s necessary to agree precisely with the commander-in-chief as he’s someone who leads this army and who understands who and in what position should be to succeed.

NV: For example, the commander of the Territorial Defense Forces, General Ihor Tantsyura was replaced...

Kostenko: And the commander of the Special Operations Forces was dismissed a year ago, he served before Khorenko.

NV: If I understood you correctly, you’re a supporter of openness about why generals are dismissed. Because there is another, opposite opinion: we’re in the hot phase of the war and it’s not necessary to explain to us why these generals were fired if victory and efficiency are our main goal. Do you think it should be open?

Kostenko: In my opinion, it’s unacceptable that the supreme commander can do this without the commander-in-chief’s approval during a war.

The supreme commander isn’t a specialist in conducting hostilities, he has his own expertise, his own profession. And the commander-in-chief and the military are people who have been on the military path since they were 18 or 17 years old, they know how it all works. And they know what kind of people are needed in certain positions.

Read also: Former SOF commander learned of his dismissal from news reports

Therefore, it’s not necessary to tell everyone if someone isn’t coping with something, maybe. It’s necessary for the following people to know this: a commander-in-chief, someone who is subject to dismissal, a defense minister, and a supreme commander, as well as other generals to understand that someone didn’t cope, which means he goes to a lower position. Or to a higher one, if he’s going to be promoted. If there’re any issues that can be told to society, they can say, but it’s not necessary to go out and comment on every dismissal.

I believe that Khorenko came out because he was treated unfairly. Therefore, he came out and stated his position.

NV: There seems to be a very simple solution to the media hype we have. If the supreme commander, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valerii Zaluzhnyi come out and make a joint statement. Is such a solution possible? Why do we so rarely see Zaluzhnyi and Zelenskyy together?

Kostenko: They can do it, but the question is will everyone believe it?

Of course, we should be more engaged and involved in war, understand the nuances, understand each soldier. Because, on the one hand, we seem to be holding some international meetings, trying to ask for weapons. And on the other hand, we forget about ordinary soldiers and commanders who are on the battlefield.

I can give an example. There is a big problem at the front, namely the write-off of military property. It’s just such a bureaucracy that it’s impossible to write off a chair or a simple thing, e.g., a trench shovel. You need the prosecutor’s office, military police, the State Bureau of Investigation, to prove that it was destroyed and not stolen.

And we, as the Verkhovna Rada [Ukraine’s parliament], submit a bill. The Verkhovna Rada [passed it] as a basis and in general, did its work in two weeks, because we saw that it was a problem. They backed it with 302 votes and submitted to the president for signature.

More than a month has already passed since Oct. 5. The president hasn’t signed the bill, although [he] has 15 days to do so, according to the Constitution. But if it’s not signed, the bill is considered adopted. This is a violation of the Constitution now when this bill isn’t signed. But no one wants to help ordinary soldiers to remove this bureaucracy. Such things should be done for the soldiers, not to increase the bureaucracy, but to simplify it.

And, of course, we’re busy with big things and we don’t have time to deal with an ordinary soldier. This is a big problem.

NV: Why is it not signed? How do you explain that?

Kostenko: Look what the problem is. To write off a shovel, you have to waste paper worth 10 of these entrenching shovels. And it’s not a fact that you’ll write them off. It’s all has been stuck for half a year.

I went to the Defense Ministry. I probably spent half a year knocking on every door, but no one was interested. The bureaucrats sitting there are fine with everything as is because it’s their job, when there are these piles of paper, they’re needed for something. And when they [papers] are gone, maybe they [bureaucrats] will be sent to the front and will no longer be needed. That’s why they did nothing with it.

And I made a decision. I drafted a bill, submitted it, and it was signed by over 40 lawmakers from almost all parliamentary factions and groups, because almost every legislator knows about this problem. And we voted for it.

The moment it was sent to the president, the Defense Ministry began to work out its by-laws to show that it was they who had done it.

And it was announced both in the Ministry of Digital Transformation and the Defense Ministry. The president came out and said that we had simplified the procedure. But the bill hasn’t been enacted yet.

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And it turned out that when the Defense Ministry’s clarification was sent to the battlefields, to the trenches, the procedure became even more complicated after the Defense Ministry’s clerks had worked on it. They also added the prosecutor’s office and another 22 documents that need to be supplied. That’s how it was “simplified.”

Someone gave the president wrong information. I’m sure he didn’t read it. But they said “don't sign it” because it’s Kostenko’s bill.

This isn’t my bill, but that of 42 lawmakers and backed by 302 [MPs], the constitutional majority. And this is an issue of a soldier on the battlefield, not some political showdown. It’s necessary to sign [the bill] and quickly simplify the write-off procedure, because it’s a very big problem now.

For example, due to the fact that they cannot write off a certain number of things, you look at the documents and our brigades are fully equipped. But in reality, they have nothing, because they cannot write it off. And this is a problem even for military planning.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine