Divisions within Ukraine’s top leadership have erupted following swirling rumors that the country’s top military leader would be fired amid reported tensions with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Rumors that Valerii Zaluzhnyi would be fired were denied this week by Zelensky’s office and the Defense Ministry, and the immensely popular commander-in-chief still retains his post. But the reports have fueled expectations of his imminent resignation, which could be a boon for Russia as the war’s second anniversary approaches.
His departure would be the most severe shake-up in Ukraine’s top military ranks since the Russian invasion, as the country grapples with severe ammunition and personnel shortages after a failed summer counter-offensive . It could also damage the morale of Ukrainian troops, who have been fighting fierce battles for almost two years.
Information about Zaluzhnyi’s possible dismissal was published in Ukrainian media on Monday. Ukraine’s Mirror of the Week said, citing unidentified sources close to Zelenskyy and Zaluzhnyi, that the president had asked the general to resign. Zaluzhnyi was offered a position as an advisor, but he declined, according to reports.
Requests for comment from the president’s office and Zaluzhnyi’s office went unanswered.
Western support arrives more slowly
As leaders of the 27-nation European Union reached a deal Thursday to provide Ukraine with a new 50 billion euro (C$67 billion) support package despite weeks of threats from Hungary to Vetoing this decision, Washington’s much-needed military aid to fuel the next phase of the fight is blocked in the US Congress.
Ukrainian forces are digging in to defend their positions against advancing Russian troops amid ammunition shortages compared to their enemies.
“Zelensky has the right to dismiss Zaluzhnyi. But he must have a very good justification for this, a very good explanation that is understandable to Ukrainians,” said Oleksii Haran, research director at the Foundation for Democratic Initiatives in Kiev.
“We know that if Zaluzhnyi is fired now, he will be used by Russian propaganda, he will be used by the forces, including those in the United States, who are delaying the supply of weapons to Ukraine. So it will not be a good thing. thing,” Haran said.
Zaluzhnyi enjoys great popularity throughout the country and in the army, but he has been at odds with Zelenskyy since he said in an interview with The Economist Last year, fighting with Russia was at a stalemate. The president denied that was the case.
Russian state media covered these rumors several times during the flagship show of the Russia 1 television channel as well as during news bulletins of the Russia 24 news channel.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the Kremlin was “of course” following the news regarding Zaluzhnyi.
“Many questions remain,” Peskov said, according to Russian news agency Tass, adding: “One thing remains obvious: the Kiev regime has many problems, everything is not right there. That’s clear. “
“It is obvious that the failure of the counter-offensive and the problems on the front have led to growing conflict… within the military and civilian elite” in kyiv, Peskov said. He predicted that “these conflicts will intensify” as the Russian military operation “continues successfully.”
Prisoner exchange, the mystery of the plane continues
Russia and Ukraine have exchanged around 200 prisoners of war each, the two countries announced on Wednesday.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the two countries exchanged 195 prisoners of war each. After the release of the statement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that 207 Ukrainians had been released. There was no immediate explanation for the different figures.
Dmytro Lubinets, Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman, said on social media that it was the 50th such exchange since Russia’s full-scale invasion began nearly two years, with a total of 3,035 prisoners of war repatriated.
Moscow said 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war were on board the military transport plane that crashed on January 24. Ukrainian officials confirmed that an exchange was scheduled to take place that day and was canceled, but said they had seen no evidence that the plane was transporting the plane. Prisoners of war.
At a meeting with his campaign team in Moscow as he prepares his re-election campaign on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin said Russian investigators had concluded that Ukraine used Patriot air defense systems supplied by the United States to shoot down the transport plane.
Ukrainian authorities did not deny the destruction of the plane, but did not take responsibility for it and called for an international investigation. Putin said Russia would not only welcome, but “insist” on an international investigation into what he described as a “crime” committed by Ukraine.