Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has finally given public confirmation that he is currently considering firing this top military general in charge of the armed forces, after a week of denials by Kiev officials amid an avalanche of reporting and leaks to the press.
It has also been widely reported that Gen. Valerii Zaluzhny has rejected Zelensky’s attempts to dismiss him, leading to speculation that this could be the start of a mutiny, given also Zalushny is very popular and has a loyal following among military ranks.
The Hill has cited a Sunday Italian news interview wherein Zelensky was asked whether he’s going to fire his military commander. Zelensky then said the Ukrainian populace want “a reset” and “a new beginning is necessary” given things haven’t gone well on the battlefield over the past year.
“I have something serious in mind, which does not concern a single person but the direction of the country’s leadership,” Zelensky said, adding that the plan is a “replacement of a series of state leaders, not just in a single sector like the military.”
The Ukrainian president is thus hinting at a major shake-up which goes even beyond military leaders. The heart of the dispute is about the military leadership’s much more negative, and realist assessment of the state of the battlefield vs. Zelensky’s positive, rosier portrayals to his backers abroad:
The dispute first started when Zaluzhnyi, who has led Ukraine’s military since 2021, told The Economist in November the war had reached a stalemate and there would be no “beautiful breakthrough.”
After the interview, Zelensky disagreed that was the case.
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh believes, as we do, that the open disagreement is much more than a “tabloid war” – but that it’s really all about opening serious peace negotiations with Moscow.
Zaluzhny’s ‘realist’ camp is seen as more in favor, while Zelensky has ruled out ceasefire talks entirely while demanding Russia even given up claims over Crimea (which realistically is simply never going to happen).
Zelensky confirms to Italian TV what myself and other journalists reported last week: the Ukrainian president is planning to replace his top general, Valery Zaluzhny, among others.
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) February 5, 2024
Below are some key excerpts from Hersh’s full report entitled THE PRESIDENT VS. THE GENERAL [emphasis ZH]…
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Hersh’s sources say the Pentagon has quietly welcomed the prospect of Ukraine peace talks:
Some at the Pentagon and in the intelligence community welcomed Zaluzhny’s assessment as the beginning of an inevitable peace process. I reported in December that Zaluzhny had been in secret discussions with his Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov, on the many complicated issues that needed to be resolved if the war came to an end. Gerasimov was keeping his boss in Moscow, Vladimir Putin, informed; Zaluzhny was not doing the same in Kyiv.
Secret talks behind Zelensky’s back?
Zelensky’s desire to fire his commanding general is the result, some Americans believe, of his knowledge that Zaluzhny had continued to participate—whether directly or through aides is not known—in secret talks since last fall with American and other Western officials on how best to achieve a ceasefire and negotiate an end to the war with Russia. It was those talks that led Zaluzhny to declare to the Economist that the war was stalemated.
Corruption in the foreground:
All of this comes at a time when there has been renewed interest among some in the American military and intelligence community in finding a way to both support significant reform in the Ukrainian government and support Zaluzhny’s efforts for far-reaching talks with Russia about a settlement in the war. A few hints of the details were provided last week to the Washington Post in a story headlined “In Ukraine, U.S. dials back plans to take turf.”
According to the knowledgeable American official, the first step of the new concept is a long-standing issue: financial reform. Zelensky must be told: “You’ve got to get rid of corruption before we do anything more.” The second step is something that does not exist today in Ukraine: a serious audit of all government funding. The official said Zelensky should consider the billions he needs “as our money, as an investment with all of the rules” for its disbursement “to be laid out. and followed.”
…Last year CIA Director William Burns secretly flew to Kyiv to warn Zelensky face-to-face that Washington was aware of his personal corruption and his unwillingness to dismiss any of the dozens of officials—who were named by Burns—known to be deeply involved in diverting defense funds to personal accounts. Burns also told the president, as I reported, that there was anger among some of his subordinates because he was taking too large a cut of the spoils.
End of the Zelensky regime?
The actual concept is far more complicated and far more ambitious, I was told by the official, and envisions sustained support for Zaluzhny and reforms that would lead to the end of the Zelensky regime. The talk this week of firing Zaluzhny left some of the planners dismayed. The official told me that forging a new strategy requires “consultation and education of key patriotic and realistic Ukrainians.” The danger with such reform is that there will be leaks to the press and “an effort by the entrenched corrupt beneficiaries of the US ‘free lunch’ policy to derail the process.”
Hersh’s sources further commented on the now very out in the open conflict between Zelensky and Zaluzhny, saying “This is an old-fashioned power struggle. We all know that stopping this madness won’t be easy and may fail, but lots of lives are at stake and integrity demands given the best efforts. We couldn’t have gotten airborne without a willing and courageous pilot” in reference to Gen. Zaluzhny.
“Of course, Zelensky knew that Zaluzny was dealing with the West,” the official said. “But Zelensky will be a dead man walking with the army, which is in favor of the general. He’s going to have a mutiny on his hands.”
Seymour Hersh’s full report can be found at Substack