On the evening of January 29, Ukrainian media reported that the Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces (AFU), Valerii Zaluzhnyi, may have been dismissed. These reports were shared by several current and former members of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s Parliament, as well as by news publications and Telegram channels.
Some sources said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had already signed a decree to dismiss Zaluzhnyi, but had not yet made it public. The head of Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate, Kyrylo Budanov, was rumored to be Zaluzhnyi’s potential replacement. Other sources wrote that the AFU commander had only been verbally informed about the dismissal, without it having been formalized by a decree. According to the sources, Zaluzhnyi was summoned to the president’s office and offered the post of ambassador, which he reportedly refused.
Officials soon reported that information about Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal was “not true.” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry posted the following message on Telegram: “Dear journalists, we’re answering everyone at once: No, this is not true.” President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Press Secretary Serhii Nykyforov reported that “the president didn’t dismiss Zaluzhnyi.”
A source in the Ukrainian leadership who is familiar with the situation told Meduza that information about Zaluzhnyi’s imminent dismissal was fake and that there would be no dismissals in the near future. During his evening video address, Zelensky made no statements about Zaluzhnyi.
The Ukrainian outlet Dzerkalo Tyzhnia, citing a source in Zelensky’s office and close to Zaluzhnyi, reported that the president had met with the commander-in-chief in person on January 29, offering him to resign. According to the source, Zaluzhnyi reportedly responded by saying that it was Zelensky’s right as president to decide with whom he wished to work, though he himself doesn’t intend to write a resignation letter. In order to dismiss the AFU commander-in-chief by presidential decree, the defense minister must also give a corresponding order, the publication notes.
The outlet’s sources reported that Zaluzhnyi wasn’t offered “anything adequate or substantial” — only the position of an assistant or advisor. According to them, Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal may be the first of many personnel changes in the AFU’s command structure and the country’s political leadership.
The Financial Times, citing four sources familiar with the situation, wrote that Zelensky’s office already made the decision to dismiss Zaluzhnyi, though they are still determining the exact timing and a candidate to replace him. Potential successors include Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of AFU’s Ground Forces, and Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate.
Zaluzhnyi himself has not commented on reports of his dismissal. On his Facebook page, he posted a photo with no caption that shows him posing with the AFU’s Chief of General Staff Serhiy Shaptala.
International media outlets have discussed a possible rift between Zelensky and Zaluzhnyi since last fall. After the breakdown of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, Zaluzhnyi gave an interview to The Economist, in which he said that the war had reached a stalemate and that it could drag on for years. Zelensky responded by saying that he doesn’t believe the situation had reached a deadlock, and later said that it was a big mistake for the military to get involved in politics.
According to media reports, Zelensky began bypassing Zaluzhnyi when communicating with other commanders and would make snarky jokes about the Commander-in-Chief. “This really discourages the commander, and most importantly, interferes with commanding the entire army,” wrote outlet Ukrainska Pravda, citing sources in Zelensky’s inner circle. Official statements made by Zelensky’s office have referred to the rumors of a conflict between him and Zaluzhnyi as nonsense and attributed them to Russia’s information war.