Zelensky claims ‘working relationship’ with Ukraine’s top commander but rift rumours persist

Ukrainian president asked whether there is any conflict between him and top Ukrainian general and if he has plans to remove him

Arpan Rai
Wednesday 20 December 2023 09:11 GMT
Zelensky answers question on rift with army chief Zaluzhnyi in year-end press conference

Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed reports of conflict with Ukraine’s chief of army and said he has a “working relationship” with Valeriy Zaluzhnyi.

“I have a working relationship with Zaluzhnyi. He should be responsible for the results on the battlefield as the commander-in-chief, and together with the General Staff [of the Armed Forces of Ukraine]. There are many questions there,” Mr Zelensky said in a year-end press conference in Kyiv where he opened the floor to questions from the crowd.

The Ukrainian president was asked whether there is any conflict between him and the top Ukrainian general and if he has plans to remove him from the role as the war continues.

Mr Zelensky said the offensive is a “complex issue”, without providing more details. “We need solid steps and results, every day at every position,” he said, referring to the collective input of Ukraine’s military leadership.

“I am waiting for very concrete things on the battlefield, I await their decisions. The strategy is clear; I want to see the details. I think that’s fair,” he said, detailing the broad outlines of his relationship with Ukrainian generals overseeing war strategies.

The two men spearheading Ukraine’s responses militarily and politically have reportedly been at loggerheads over their strategies and ideas as Russia’s invasion enters its 23rd month soon. The biggest crack in their official relationship came last month after Mr Zaluzhniy said in an independent take that war has hit a static point which could only be cracked with a “massive technological leap”. The commander-in-chief said Ukraine’s chances of turning the tide were “practically zero”.

Mr Zelensky was quick to outright reject reports of a “stalemate” and rebuffed the remarks of the battlefield situation by his top commander in a public condemnation of military interference in politics during wartime.

“Today time has passed and people are tired, but this is not a stalemate,” he said, adding that Russia controls the skies but Kyiv “cares about our military”. Mr Zelensky warned against any political rifts and called for national unity.

The Ukrainian leader also said that the military has sought an additional mobilisation of 450,000 to 500,000 into the country’s army but added that a final decision is still pending.

Mr Zelensky’s press conference comes five days after his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held his marathon staged conference where he answered purported questions from Russians.

Mr Putin’s talk in Moscow was the first heavily stage-managed press conference held since the Russian president launched his war almost two years ago.

According to the US-based think-tank monitoring the war, the rumours of rifts between Zelensky and his military brass are being sown by Russian sources to drive a wedge in the country.

“Russian sources have increasingly been promoting reports about internal Ukrainian political-military tension in an effort to discredit Ukrainian leadership, sow domestic distrust between Ukrainian citizens and the government, and weaken Western support for Ukraine,” it said in its latest assessment.

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