(Bloomberg) -- Volodymyr Zelenskiy hasn’t dismissed Ukraine’s army chief, a presidential spokesman said — ending an evening of speculation that the popular general had been fired.
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“Definitely not,” Serhiy Nykyforov said Monday by phone amid talk of Valery Zaluzhnyi’s removal. “The president didn’t dismiss the commander-in-chief.”
Local media and social networks had been awash with unverified reports about Zaluzhnyi’s departure — a step that would risk a public backlash as a December poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology put his approval rating at 92%. Support in that survey for his exit was just 2%.
Talk about a rift between Zelenskiy and Zaluzhnyi has built over the past year as a counteroffensive by Ukraine’s military found little success in beating back invading forces from neighboring Russia.
The army chief in a November interview described the war as a stalemate — an assessment that the president’s office challenged. Zelenskiy has also warned top military officials against entering politics.
Zaluzhnyi has criticized what he considers an excessively slow pace for drafting new soldiers. Zelenskiy has delayed signing a bill lowering the age of conscription, pushing back against an army request to sign up as many 500,000 soldiers, asking the military instead to present a comprehensive package that includes a blueprint for troop rotations and leave.
The tensions add to worries over more than $100 billion in US and European Union funding, which is being held up by political infighting. The EU has so far fallen short of a pledge to send a million artillery shells, leaving Ukraine exposed as Russia boosts war production and forges arm deals with Iran and North Korea.
(Updates with context starting in fifth paragraph.)
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