General Valerii Zaluzhnyi has served as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine since 2021. Under his leadership, Ukraine has put up a fierce resistance against Russia’s invasion, which began in February 2022. Zaluzhnyi has directed Ukraine’s defense, overseeing counteroffensives that have reclaimed territory once held by Russia.
However, recent media reports suggest rising tensions between Zeluzhnyi and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. There is speculation that Zelenskyy may be moving to dismiss the popular general from his post.
Zelenskyy’s Office Denies Plans to Fire Zaluzhnyi
On January 30th, multiple outlets reported that Zelenskyy had offered to make Zaluzhnyi Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister during a meeting on January 29th. This demotion would allow Zelenskyy to put his own candidate, likely Kyrylo Budanov, in charge of Ukraine’s military.
Zaluzhnyi allegedly declined the offer to step down as Commander-in-Chief.
In response, Zelenskyy’s office issued statements denying any plans to fire Zaluzhnyi:
“All comments on General Zaluzhnyi’s possible dismissal which are actively spread by a number of media outlets citing their unnamed ‘sources in the defense sector’ are an outright lie,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Zelenskyy.
“The Commander-in-Chief is appointed and dismissed exclusively on the basis of a presidential decree. No such documents exist,” stated Defense Ministry spokesman Artem Dekhtiarenko.
So while tensions likely exist between Ukraine’s civilian leadership and military command, Zaluzhnyi’s position currently appears secure.
Speculation on Motives Behind the Rumors
Assuming the rumors have some validity, what factors might be driving the rift? Some possibilities analysts have proposed:
Zaluzhnyi emerged from the war as a hugely popular figure in Ukraine. Could Zelenskyy view him as a potential political rival in a future election?
There may be disputes over military strategy. For example, Zaluzhnyi could favor a more aggressive offensive posture than Zelenskyy deems politically prudent.
Ukrainian authorities are investigating allegations of embezzlement and graft within the military. Perhaps Zelenskyy lost confidence in Zaluzhnyi’s leadership after scandals under his watch.
Some reports indicate Zelenskyy’s Western backers oppose removing the successful Zaluzhnyi from command. If true, external pressure is likely the main reason Zaluzhnyi remains in his post.
Quotes on the Controversy
European officials expressed concern over the rumors while affirming support for Ukraine:
“Of course I am worried and anybody who wants Ukraine to succeed should be worried by talk of changes in the military leadership,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.
Moscow tried to capitalize on the internal turmoil:
“The very emergence of this topic signals that there are serious problems within the regime,” said Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Analysts warned of perilous consequences if Zelenskyy proceeds with dismissing the well-regarded Zaluzhnyi:
“Removing the commander-in-chief after such significant victories would be a mistake,” said retired U.S. Army General Ben Hodges. “It risks degrading trust in Ukraine’s civilian institutions.”
What Comes Next?
All signs point to General Zaluzhnyi retaining his position, at least for now.
But the rumors exposed real fissures between Ukraine’s civilian and military leadership. Tensions likely remain high behind the scenes.
Zelenskyy maintains the legal authority to replace Zaluzhnyi whenever he deems necessary. Further military setbacks or scandals could renew questions about the general’s status.
For Ukraine’s sake, the two leaders must find a way to cooperate effectively despite any friction or political aspirations. Their ability to present a unified front impacts not just domestic morale, but Ukraine’s critical international alliances.
With a decisive counteroffensive expected this spring, Ukraine can ill afford discord between those directing the war effort. Any vulnearability is sure to be exploited by Russia for propaganda purposes and battlefield advantage.
So while the immediate drama over Zaluzhnyi’s job security quiets down, the relationship between Ukraine’s civilian and military leadership remains under intense scrutiny both internally and by outside observers.
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