Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to fire Ukraine’s top general, Valery Zaluzhny, a move that could backfire due to Zaluzhny’s popularity inside Ukraine.
Ukrainian media outlets reported that Zelensky told Zaluzhny that he would be moved to another post but that the general refused to step down as commander-in-chief. Other reports said Zelensky told Zaluzhny he would be fired, but for now, he remains in his position.
Zelensky’s office has denied there was a conversation about Zaluzhny’s firing, but Ukrainian sources speaking to the media say it’s just a matter of time before the general is sacked. Sources told POLITICO that the reason why he’s been spared so far is because Zelensky is afraid of creating a powerful new political rival.
Zaluzhny has long been rumored to be a potential future presidential candidate once Zelensky allows elections to happen again. He has not officially announced intentions to enter politics, but polling has shown the Ukrainian public trusts Zaluzhny significantly more than Zelensky, making him a real political threat.
“So far, Zaluzhny has not decided to enter politics, but he is considering this option, and the president’s office is afraid.” one source told POLITICO. “I know for a fact that Zaluzhny is going to be fired, but it was not supposed to happen on Monday and it didn’t.”
Zaluzhny and Zelensky have long been at odds, a spat that spilled out into the public last year after the general called the war against Russia a “stalemate” and said there would be no breakthrough in Ukraine’s counteroffensive. The comments drew a sharp rebuke from Zelensly, who claims Ukrainian forces can still gain territory despite the reality on the battlefield.
According to The Washington Post, the latest spat between the two is over Ukraine’s plans for new mobilization. Zaluzhny says he needs up to 500,000 new troops to match what Russia has mobilized, but Zelensky believes that’s impractical since Ukraine is short on uniforms, weapons, training facilities, and funds.
The Post quoted a Ukrainian battalion commander who said sacking Zaluzhny, who is popular among the military and civilians, would be a disaster. “This is a catastrophic step,” the battalion commander said. “When this becomes official, we’re screwed. The morale of both the military and society will go way down.”