Volodymyr Zelensky is preparing to replace Ukraine's top general

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is preparing to replace his top general in what would be the biggest change in Ukrainian military leadership since the start of the large-scale Russian invasion two years ago.

Zelensky on Monday offered Valery Zalozny, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, a new role as defense adviser, but the general declined, according to four people familiar with the discussions.

Two of them said that Zelensky made it clear to Zalozny that regardless of whether he took this position or not, he would be removed from his current position.

The four people said that although a decision had been made in Zelensky's office to fire Zalozny, he may not be removed for some time after reports of the plans appeared in Ukrainian media.

The president's offer of a new role for the general comes after months of speculation about his fate, fueled by reports of tension between the two men.

Their tense relationship came to light in November after Ukraine's counteroffensive failed to achieve its ambitious goals of regaining lost territory and cutting Russia's land bridge to Crimea.

At the time, Zalozny said the war had reached a “stalemate,” prompting the president's office to criticize him for using that term.

On Monday, Zelensky's spokesman, Serhiy Nikiforov, and the Defense Ministry denied reports about Zalozny's dismissal.

The ministry wrote on its Telegram channel: “Journalists, we immediately answer everyone: No, this is not true.” The president's office declined to comment further on Tuesday.

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Zalozhny's dismissal would also cause a major uproar within Ukraine's military establishment and civil society, among which he enjoys enormous support.

In a Ukrainian poll released in December, 88 percent of Ukrainians said they trusted Zalozny, compared to 62 percent who said they trusted Zelensky.

“This will have a very negative impact on me [morale] Ukrainian military historian Mykhaylo Zhirukhov told Kyiv NV Radio, who added that he believed the rumors were “made up.”

Replacing Zalozny could also unsettle Ukraine's Western partners, including military officials who have worked closely with the general over the past two years to devise battlefield strategies.

The war is going through a critical phase as Kiev waits to see whether it will receive billions of dollars in military and financial aid from the United States and the European Union.

Zalozny did not comment on reports of his dismissal. However, on Monday, he posted an undated selfie with Chief of the General Staff Serhiy Shaptala on Facebook, in which they were both wearing Ukrainian army T-shirts.

Reports about Zalozny's impending ouster began circulating Monday evening in local media and on anonymous local Telegram channels. They also appeared in public comments by politicians closely associated with former President Petro Poroshenko, who was defeated by Zelensky in the 2019 election.

According to the four people familiar with the issue, it is currently unclear who will replace Zalozny as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

The two possible candidates are Oleksandr Sirsky, commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, and Kirilo Budanov, head of the country's Military Intelligence Directorate. Both men are close to Zelensky.

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Ukrainian news outlet Mirror of the week She also reported on discussions about the possible dismissal of Zalozny, citing sources in Zelensky's office. Several other media outlets quoted sources who said that Zalozny had already been dismissed or would be dismissed soon.

A four-star military career called “Iron General” by fans, Zalozny, 50, was appointed by Zelensky as commander-in-chief in July 2021. He has overseen Ukrainian military operations since the start of Russia's full military operation in Ukraine. Large-scale invasion in February 2022.

He is credited with organizing several Ukrainian military successes, including the defense of Kiev in the early days of the Russian invasion, and successful counterattacks in the eastern Kharkiv region and the southern regional capital Kherson in the fall of 2022.

Zelensky reportedly sought to keep Zalozny, whom he viewed as a potential rival, out of the public eye and bypass him during crucial moments of the war by relaying orders to the general's subordinates.

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