Zelenskyy confirms he is thinking about replacing Ukraine’s top military commander

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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was weighing 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.

The announcement comes after Ukrainian shelling killed 28 people at a bakery in the Russian-occupied city of Lysychansk this weekend.

Asked whether he was considering the ouster of Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Zelenskyy 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’s “not about a single person but about the direction of the country’s leadership.”

Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi, front, attends an event for marking Statehood Day in Mykhailivska Square in Kyiv, on July 28, 2023.

“I’m thinking about this replacement, but you can’t say here we replaced a single person,” Zelenskyy 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.”

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

According to Ukrainian and Western media reports, Zelenskyy last week offered Zaluzhnyi to resign, but the general refused. Zaluzhnyi hasn’t commented on the issue.

The tensions between the president and Zaluzhnyi 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.

Zelenskyy 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.

A rift between Zaluzhnyi and Zelenskyy 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.

Ukraine desperately requires more Western military assistance as the Russian forces are pressing in many directions of the 1,500-kilometre frontline, but an aid package has been blocked in the US Congress. Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal could fuel uncertainty among Western allies.

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

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