Russia claimed Wednesday that Ukraine’s leaders were divided after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reportedly tried to pressure his popular armed forces chief Valery Zaluzhny to stand down.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists in Moscow that reports of the attempted dismissal exposed “growing differences” between Ukraine’s civilian and military leadership.
Rumours have swirled across Ukrainian media this week that Zelensky was moving to fire Zaluzhny, who has headed the armed forces since before Russia’s 2022 invasion.
Various reports suggested Zaluzhny would be replaced by Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence.
Citing sources in the Zelensky’s office and entourage, Ukrainian news website Zn.ua reported Tuesday that the president met commander-in-chief Zaluzhny on Monday to suggest he stand down and write a letter of resignation.
Zaluzhny was offered another role — either as an advisor or ambassador, according to different reports.
He rejected the proposal and the president did not dismiss him, Zn.ua reported.
Zelensky’s office has denied it planned to remove Zaluzhny and the country’s defence ministry said the reports were “not true” in a post on social media.
Zelensky himself has not commented on the reports — which some have seen as a leak to test public opinion about the idea of a change in military leadership.
Differences between the two men were thrust into the spotlight last year, when Zaluzhny said the war had ground to a stalemate in a high-profile interview with The Economist.
Zelensky publicly rejected that assertion in the first sign of a possible rift between the president and his commander-in-chief.
In Moscow on Wednesday, Peskov said the possible stand-off was the inevitable result of Ukraine’s bogged-down armed forces.
“It’s obvious that the failed counteroffensive and problems on the fronts are leading to growing differences between representatives of the Kyiv regime — both the military leadership and the civilian one.
“These differences will grow as Russia’s special operation continues successfully”, he said, using Moscow’s preferred language for its invasion.
Neither side has made a significant territorial gain in more than a year.