MOSCOW (Reuters) – Senior Russian security official Dmitry Medvedev on Friday said Ukraine’s new Russian-born army chief was a traitor, while the Kremlin said the appointment would not alter the outcome of what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine.
Russian officials commented after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy replaced his country’s popular army chief with his ground forces commander on Thursday, a huge gamble at a time when Russian forces are gaining the upper hand nearly two years into their war.
Zelesnkiy replaced the country’s outgoing armed forces commander General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi with Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, 58.
Syrskyi was born in July 1965 in Russia’s Vladimir region, which was then part of the Soviet Union. Like many people of his age in Ukraine’s armed forces, he studied in Moscow – at the Higher Military Command School – among peers who have since become Russian commanders.
He served for five years in the Soviet Artillery Corps and has lived in Ukraine since the 1980s.
Dmitry Medvedev, an ex-president who is now deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, accused Syrskyi, who did not serve in post-Soviet Russia’s army, of breaking his oath as an officer.
“Looking at the biography of the new commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces Syrskyi one feels a sense of hatred, contempt and disgust,” Medvedev wrote on his official Telegram channel.
“Disgust for a man who was a Soviet Russian officer, but became a Bandera traitor, who broke his oath and serves the Nazis, destroying his loved ones. May the earth burn under his feet!,” said Medvedev.
“Bandera” is a reference to Stepan Bandera, a World War Two-era Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated with Nazi Germany to fight against the Red Army. He is regarded as a freedom fighter by some Ukrainians but as a traitor by many Russians.
Separately, the Kremlin said it did not believe that a change at the top of Ukraine’s military leadership would alter the outcome of the conflict.
In a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We don’t think these are factors that can change the course of the special military operation operation,” using Moscow’s preferred term for its campaign in Ukraine.
(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Felix Light; Editing by Andrew Osborn)