Zelenskiy signals shakeup of Ukraine’s military leadership is imminent

Zelenskiy Signals Shakeup Of Ukraine’s Military Leadership Is Imminent
The Ukrainian president said he was looking at removing General Valerii Zaluzhnyi as part of ‘a reset, a new beginning’. Photo: PA Images
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Illia Novikov, Associated Press

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he was weighing up a possible dismissal of the country’s top military officer, a prospect that has shocked the nation fighting Russia’s invasion and worried Kyiv’s Western allies.

Asked whether he was considering the ousting of General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Mr Zelenskiy told Italian RAI TV in an interview released late on Sunday that he was thinking about it as part of a broader issue of setting the country’s path.


He said that “a reset, a new beginning is necessary” and it is “not about a single person but about the direction of the country’s leadership”.

“I’m thinking about this replacement, but you can’t say here we replaced a single person,” Mr Zelenskiy said. “When we talk about this, I mean a replacement of a series of state leaders, not just in a single sector like the military.

“If we want to win we must all push in the same direction, convinced of victory, we cannot be discouraged, let our arms fall, we must have the right positive energy.”

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Commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Mr Zelenskiy’s comments marked his first confirmation that he was mulling replacing the widely popular general, a possibility that caused an uproar in Ukraine and delighted the Kremlin as the war approaches its second anniversary.

Kyiv Mayor Vitalii Klitschko criticised the possibility of Gen Zaluzhnyi’s sacking, saying it was because of the general’s leadership that “many Ukrainians truly trust the armed forces”.

“Today is a moment when politics might prevail over reason and country’s interests,” Mr Klitschko said on social media. The mayor of Ukraine’s capital city has been a vocal critic of Mr Zelenskiy. The presidency in turn has accused Klitschko’s office of inefficiencies.


It is unclear who might replace Gen Zaluzhnyi and if his successor would command the same level of respect from Ukraine’s troops and foreign defence leaders.

According to Ukrainian and Western media reports, Mr Zelenskiy last week offered for Gen Zaluzhnyi to resign, but he refused. Gen Zaluzhnyi has not commented on the issue.

The tensions between the president and Gen Zaluznyi have been rising as the country grapples with dire ammunition and personnel shortages following a failed summer counteroffensive. The need for a broad mobilisation to fill the ranks has reportedly been one of the areas of disagreement.

Mr Zelenskiy said at the end of last year that he had turned down the military’s request to mobilise up to 500,000 people, demanding more details about how it would be organised and paid for.


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Volodymyr Zelenskiy poses for a photo with servicemen during his visit to Zaporizhzhia region, the site of fierce battles with the Russian troops, on Sunday (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

A rift between Gen Zaluzhnyi and Mr Zelenskiy first broke into the open last autumn when the general acknowledged in an interview with The Economist that the fighting with Russia had stalemated. The president strongly denied that was the case.

For his part, Gen Zaluzhnyi has published two essays laying out his vision for how Ukraine can win the war.


In his writings, he said it was critical for Ukraine to have air superiority, to extending its efficiency in countering enemy artillery, to build up reserves and to increase electronic warfare capabilities.

Ukraine desperately needs more Western military assistance as the Russian forces are pressing in many directions of the 1,500-km (900-mile) frontline, but an aid package had been blocked in the US Congress. Gen Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal could fuel uncertainty among Western allies.

Russia has rejoiced at the prospect, with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov saying that the talk about Gen Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal exposed rifts in the Ukrainian leadership.

The Ukrainska Pravda newspaper reported on Monday that Mr Zelenskiy was also considering the removal of General Staff Chief Serhii Shaptala.

Gen Zaluzhnyi on Monday congratulated Mr Shaptala on his birthday and posted a picture of them together on Facebook.

“It will still be very difficult for us, but we will definitely never be ashamed,” Gen Zaluzhnyi wrote.

Four people were killed and at least one was injured in a Monday afternoon strike over the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine, the head of the local military administration said.

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