In a further twist to an ongoing headline story in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration has reportedly informed the White House of its intention to dismiss Valery Zaluzhny, the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, The Washington Post reported on Friday, Feb. 2.
This decision, as per sources cited by the publication, has not been welcomed by US officials but they refrained from objecting, acknowledging it as a sovereign decision made by Ukraine’s leadership.
But in Kyiv, officials are denying that Zaluzhny is about to be replaced.
President Zelensky has not signed a decree formalizing Zaluzhny's resignation. The matter was not on the agenda when the Ukrainian leader met with the country’s top military commanders, including Zaluzhny, on Friday and he did not mention it in his address to Ukrainians later that day.
Rumors about Zaluzhny’s possible dismissal began circulating on Jan. 29, following a meeting with Zelensky. Anonymous Telegram channels, believed to have ties to the President's Office and Ukrainian lawmakers, began reporting that Zaluzhny’s dismissal was imminent.
The following day, major global media outlets were reporting on the potential resignation of the Commander-in-Chief.
No one knows for certain what occurred at the meeting, as the Ministry of Defense quickly dispelled the rumor with a simple message.
“Dear journalists, we immediately answer everyone: No, this is not true,” read the ministry’s Telegram announcement at 7:41 p.m.
Zaluzhny himself posted on his own Facebook account on Jan. 30 a joint photo with Lt. Gen. Serhiy Shaptala, seeming to demonstrate to everyone that he is in place and the unity of his team should not be doubted.
Rumors about a potential rift between Zelensky and Zaluzhny have been circulating since the end of 2023, gaining steam when a column and interview were published by The Economist on Nov. 1 in which Zaluzhny said that in the Russo-Ukrainian War, both sides have “reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate.”
“Zaluzhny’s column was a surprise. It is difficult to answer why he formulated his thoughts in this way,” a source from the president's office told Kyiv Post.
Zelensky apparently would have liked to have been informed that the article was going to be published.
“Zelensky told Zaluzhny at the headquarters of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief that he should have talked to him about the column. Afterward, Zaluzhny apologized,” the source said.
Analysts have suggested that there may be differences between Zelensky and Zaluzhny not only over military tactics and strategy, but also on the scale and nature of mobilization required to bolster Ukraine’s military forces.
But some suspect that Zaluzhny’s high popularity and authority, which are often invoked by Zelensky's political opponents, are resented by the president's inner circle, especially Chief-of-Staff Andriy Yermak. Many regard the latter as having increasingly assumed the role of a gray cardinal within the administration.
On Feb. 1, Zaluzhny, who has provided no reasons to doubt his loyalty to Zelensky, went public again and published a column on CNN’s website outlining his view of the military situation and Ukraine’s requirements.
After Zelensky’s meeting the following day with the country’s top brass, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov commented on the rumors.
"There is no document on the resignation of the Commander-in-Chief as of today. If a document appears, then we can ask for opinions and talk about something. Until then, I would not advise anyone to raise these waves, to start saying that something has happened. You know that this is very destabilizing for the army itself, and it is not good for them.”
Zelensky himself has not commented on the matter, neither in his nightly addresses to Ukrainians nor on any of his social networks.
On the other hand, Moscow has already exploited the issue claiming that it is evidence of divisions in the Ukrainian leadership. On Jan. 31, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that the rumors about Zaluzhny’s replacement attest that “the Kyiv regime has a lot of problems, things are not going well there.”
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