The president has warned his top commanders to stay out of politics or risk harming “the unity of the nation.”
Amid a brewing conflict with his top general, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky told The Sun on Monday that it would be “a huge mistake” for military leaders to enter the political arena.
Zelensky became embroiled in a public spat with the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, General Valery Zaluzhny, last month, after Zaluzhny told The Economist that the conflict with Russia had entered a stalemate. Zaluzhny added that Russia would eventually prevail due to its larger population and greater resources.
The Ukrainian president’s office publicly rebuked the military commander, and Zelensky went on to sack one of the general’s top deputies and publicly declare that the conflict was “not a stalemate.”
Speaking to The Sun, Zelensky said that “if a military man decided to do politics, it is his right, then he should enter politics and then he can’t deal with war.”
“If you manage war keeping in mind that tomorrow you will do politics or elections … you behave as a politician and not as a military man, and I think that is a huge mistake,” Zelensky added.
“With all the respect to General Zaluzhny and to all the commanders who are on the battlefield, there is an absolute understanding of the hierarchy and that is it, and there can’t be two, three, four, five [leaders],” Zelensky told the British tabloid. “In accordance with the law and in times of war this can’t even be discussed. That does not lead to the unity of the nation.”
Prior to Zaluzhny’s interview with The Economist, a report in The Times suggested that Zaluzhny had urged Zelensky to call off Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive against Russian forces, only for Zelensky to refuse. The Ukrainian military ended up losing more than 90,000 troops during the June-October offensive and another 13,700 so far this month, according to the latest figures from the Russian Defense Ministry.
Ukraine’s top general admits Russia has the advantage
“There is a conflict between the president and the military,” Zelensky’s former adviser, Aleksey Arestovich, told Spain’s El Mundo newspaper earlier this month. “The commander-in-chief says one thing about the war and about the prospects for victory, and the president says something completely different. It is not a normal situation.”
Arestovich has urged Zelensky on several occasions to hold elections next year, and has signaled that he would run for president if a vote were held. However, Zaluzhny is a popular figure in Ukraine, and Arestovich has said that the general could emerge as the “only real” challenger to Zelensky.
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