Speculation over the future of army chief Valery Zaluzhny has been rife as war’s second anniversary nears.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he plans to reshuffle Ukraine’s military and political leadership.
The comments, on Italian RAI TV in an interview broadcast late on Sunday, follow weeks of speculation that Zelenskyy intends to dismiss Valery Zaluzhny, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s military.
“A reset, a new beginning is necessary” and it is “not about a single person but about the direction of the country’s leadership”, Zelenskyy said.
“I’m thinking about this replacement,” he said, “but you can’t say here we replaced a single person.”
Zaluzhny, who was appointed by Zelenskyy months before Russia invaded in February 2022, is popular with troops and the wider population. He has denied speculation that he has political ambitions.
He and the president have been at odds for some time over the conduct of the war, as the country grapples with low ammunition, personnel shortages after a failed counteroffensive, and the need for more troops.
Zelenskyy sought to downplay the implications during his comments on the reshuffle.
“When we talk about this, I mean a replacement of a series of state leaders, not just in a single sector like the military,” he said.
“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,” the president continued as he spoke of Kyiv’s struggle to oust Russian forces following the 2014 annexation of Crimea, the occupation of parts of the Donbas, and the invasion of February 2022.
Ukrainian news outlet Ukrainska Pravda reported the same day that Zelenskyy is also considering removing General Staff Chief Serhii Shaptala.
Zaluzhny, meanwhile, congratulated Shaptala on his birthday and posted a picture of them together on Facebook.
Speculation has gripped Ukraine for weeks over Zaluzhny’s position and relationship with the president as the war against the Russian invasion nears its second anniversary.
At the end of last year, Zelenskyy said he had rejected a request by the military to mobilise up to 500,000 people and demanded to know how it would be organised and paid for.
Tensions between the two men were also publicised last year after the general told The Economist in an interview that the war had entered a stalemate. The claim earned a furious denial from Zelenskyy.
Unconfirmed media reports last week said that the general had refused a presidential request for his resignation.
Oleksandr Syrsky, commander of land forces, and Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Ukrainian defence ministry’s intelligence directorate, are the two leading candidates to replace Zaluzhny as commander-in-chief, according to speculation.