Zelensky Names Ukraine’s Ex-Top General Ambassador to U.K.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Thursday appointed Valery Zaluzhny as his new ambassador to Britain, just a month after he removed him from his post as the country’s top general amid tensions between the military and civilian leadership.

“Gen. Valery Zaluzhny told me that this is the direction he would like to take — diplomacy,” Mr. Zelensky said in a video statement, adding that Ukraine’s “alliance with Britain should only get stronger” with this appointment.

Thursday’s announcement ended weeks of speculation about the fate of General Zaluzhny, whose relationship with Mr. Zelensky had become strained. His dismissal from the army command was seen as the result of Mr. Zelensky’s frustration at the failure of Ukraine’s counteroffensive last summer, but also possibly the product of his fears that the general, a very popular figure in Ukraine, might become a political opponent in the future.

In Britain, General Zaluzhny will occupy an influential position that has been vacant since the summer, but one distant from Ukraine’s military and political decision-making. One of his missions will be to shore up support for the Ukrainian war effort among European countries as sustained American military aid is in doubt.

Mr. Zelensky made the announcement on a day when the British defense secretary, Grant Shapps, visited Kyiv. Mr. Shapps said that his country would supply more than 10,000 drones to the Ukrainian Army as part of an existing military aid package that received additional funding, for a total of about $415 million.

In Ukraine, General Zaluzhny has been nicknamed the Iron General for his decisive leadership of the country’s army at its most challenging times, including the defense of the capital, Kyiv, in the first weeks of the war.

He then devised and spearheaded a long-expected counteroffensive in the south last year. But the push failed to break through formidable Russian defensive lines, and Ukrainian troops advanced just a few miles. General Zaluzhny offered a candid assessment of the fighting in November, noting that it had reached a stalemate.

That assessment angered Mr. Zelensky and his top aides, who publicly rebuked General Zaluzhny. He was replaced three months later by Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, who had been the head of the ground forces.

General Syrsky has since had to oversee a difficult situation on the battlefield, including the Ukrainian retreat from the strategic city of Avdiivka in the east and repeated Russian attacks along a front line stretching more than 600 miles.

General Zaluzhny retained high levels of support even after the failed counteroffensive failed and his dismissal. A poll last month from the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology said that 94 percent of Ukrainians trusted him, slightly more than when he was still commander in chief.

By contrast, Mr. Zelensky’s approval rating stood at 66 percent, down 10 percentage points since December.

General Zaluzhny’s high standing with the Ukrainian public led to speculation that he could be a prospective challenger to Mr. Zelensky in future elections, prompting some in the country to regard them as political rivals.

Though General Zaluzhny has never publicly expressed a desire to enter politics, political analysts on Thursday interpreted his new appointment as a possible maneuver by Mr. Zelensky to distance him from domestic affairs.

“That’s a political move,” said Mykola Davydiuk, a Ukrainian political analyst. “For Zelensky, the motivation is to block him in the media, that he disappears from here, that he’s no longer active.”

It is unclear when General Zaluzhny will take up his new post, and he has made no immediate public comment on his appointment. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had sent a request for approval to the British side.

General Zaluzhny would replace Vadym Prystaiko, who was dismissed as Ukraine’s envoy to Britain in July 2023 after he publicly criticized Mr. Zelensky.

In his new role, General Zaluzhny may try to use his stature as a former top commander to press allies to speed up the delivery of military aid to the Ukrainian Army, which lacks ammunition and weapons to fend off Russia’s assaults.

General Zaluzhny is likely to be able to count on Britain’s support. The country has been one of Kyiv’s strongest backers in the war, the first to give the nation Western-made battle tanks and then to sign a bilateral security agreement with the Ukrainian government.

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