President Volodymyr Zelensky said that a broad overhaul of Ukraine’s military and civilian leadership was needed to reboot the country’s war effort, suggesting that a major shake-up of his government was imminent.
Mr. Zelensky’s comments, in a broadcast aired on Sunday night, indicated that his plans went beyond replacing the top military commander, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhny. Tensions between the military and civilian leadership, which have been building for months, seemed to reach a breaking point last week, when Mr. Zelensky summoned the general for a meeting to tell him he was being fired, according to Ukrainian officials familiar with the discussion.
However, the decision was put on hold, creating a sense of limbo at the top of the government at a precarious moment in the war.
“A reset, a new beginning is necessary,” Mr. Zelensky told the Italian media outlet Rai News in the Sunday night broadcast. “I have something serious in mind, which is not about a single person but about the direction of the country’s leadership.”
Depleted Ukrainian forces are struggling to hold back renewed Russian offensives across the front, with the epicenter of the fighting around the battered city of Avdiivka in the eastern Donetsk region.
Russian soldiers, using heavy cloud cover to evade detection by Ukrainian surveillance drones, managed to break into the northern outskirts of the city in recent days, according to Ukrainian soldiers in the area.
They are increasingly threatening a vital supply line and Ukraine’s control over the city. The fall of Avdiivka would represent the Russian forces’ most significant victory since they took Bakhmut in May, and it would open up new lines of assault in the Kremlin’s bid to seize the entire eastern Donbas region.
It could also free up resources for another Russian push taking place several hundreds miles to the north, in the Kharkiv region.
Moscow has amassed more than 40,000 troops and hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles near Kupiansk, part of what Ukrainian military commanders said is an intensifying bid to retake territory in Kharkiv that Russian forces lost in a Ukrainian offensive more than a year ago.
The Ukrainian defense has been undermined by the suspension of vital American military assistance, with Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives blocking repeated efforts to provide new funding.
The lack of assistance has not only resulted in a critical shortage of artillery and other weapons, but has made planning for the future exceedingly difficult.
While Ukrainian lawmakers are engaged in heated debate over a new mobilization bill that could lead to drafting up to 500,000 troops, the discussion is complicated by the fact that Ukrainian leaders do not know what resources will be available to train and equip those troops.
Even before the impasse in Washington, newly committed aid to Ukraine had dropped almost 90 percent between August and October compared to the same period in 2022, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German research institute.
While Senate Republicans and Democrats on Sunday unveiled a $118.3 billion compromise bill that tied $60 billion in security aid for Ukraine to assistance for Israel as well as U.S. border security reforms, Speaker Mike Johnson, who had insisted on linking the disparate issues, has said the bill would be “dead on arrival” in the Republican-controlled House.
Former President Donald J. Trump is campaigning against the deal and is pressuring his supporters in Congress to block it.
Mr. Biden urged lawmakers on Sunday to pass the legislation, saying that “if we don’t stop Putin’s appetite for power and control in Ukraine, it will go beyond Ukraine, and the cost to America will rise.”
Ukrainian forces are at perhaps their weakest point since the summer of 2022. Mr. Zelensky’s frustrations with Mr. Zaluzhny have grown over the past year, as the fighting has bogged down in bloody, static trench warfare. But Mr. Zelensky has moved cautiously, well aware of the risks of replacing the popular military commander.
Mr. Zaluzhny is held in high esteem by rank-and-file soldiers and is considered a hero by many in the country for orchestrating Ukraine’s defense during the first chaotic months of the war, Europe’s largest land conflict in decades.
His dismissal could fuel concerns about instability in Kyiv’s wartime leadership and would almost certainly be used by Russian propagandists to depict Mr. Zelensky as an undemocratic tyrant.
“When we talk about this, I mean a replacement of a series of state leaders, not just in a single sector like the military,” Mr. Zelensky said in the broadcast on Sunday, when asked about reports that he planned to replace General Zaluzhny. “If we want to win, we must all push in the same direction, convinced of victory.”
Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, said that the White House had been consulted about possible changes in Ukraine’s leadership and would not weigh in on personnel decisions.
“It’s the sovereign right of Ukraine and the right of the president of Ukraine to make his personnel decisions.” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “We’ve been clear, we’re just not going to get embroiled in that particular decision. We have indicated that directly to the Ukrainians.”