Ukraine replaces special forces commander, removed officer wonders why

FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy gives a press conference in Odesa.

(Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday appointed a new commander of its special forces, a unit known for conducting military operations in Moscow-held territories, but the officer replaced in the shuffle said he had not been told why.

Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address that Colonel Serhiy Lupanchuk would now head the forces and described him as "an experienced officer, combat officer and the right man in command".

The president said Lupanchuk's predecessor, Maj-Gen. Viktor Horenko, who led the forces from July 2022, "will continue to perform special tasks" within the Defence Ministry's Intelligence Directorate.

Zelenskiy gave no further explanation for the change.

Horenko said in an interview he had been told nothing.

"I personally don't know the reasons. Let me just say that I learned of this from the media," Horenko told the Ukrainska Pravda news site.

"I spoke to the commander-in-chief (General Valery Zaluzhnyi), who was also unable to explain it. The commander-in chief was supposed to make the appropriate submission, but he told he that he didn't do it. I don't understand what happened."

The special forces are believed to be behind the most sophisticated operations Ukraine's military has conducted in areas under Russian control, in particular Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014, eight years before Moscow's full land invasion.

Recent examples are a strike in September on the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet command in Sevastopol, and attacks on a patrol ship and a submarine stationed in the peninsula.

The special forces are also responsible for military information and psychological operations, as well as the organization of resistance in occupied territories.

Zelenskiy this week praised Ukraine's military for diminishing Moscow's military strength in the Black Sea through increased air and sea drone attacks on Russian military targets.

The president dismisses Western criticism that Ukraine's counteroffensive launched in June is proceeding too slowly.

Commander-in-chief Zaluzhniy, in an essay published in The Economist magazine this week, said the war had entered a static, attritional phase, which was to Moscow's advantage.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski and Oleksandr Kozhukhar; Editing by Rod Nickel)