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18 Jun, 2023 14:52

Ukraine’s top general ‘could be abroad’ – Putin

The head of the Ukrainian armed forces has been out of the public eye since early May
Ukraine’s top general ‘could be abroad’ – Putin

The commander-in-chief of Kiev’s armed forces, General Valery Zaluzhny, whose whereabouts have been the subject of speculation in recent weeks, could be outside Ukraine, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has suggested.

On Sunday, the Rossiya 1 broadcaster published a clip of Putin speaking about the fate of Ukraine’s top general during his meeting with Russian military correspondents and bloggers at the Kremlin earlier this week.

"Where is he, Zaluzhny? I know. I think I know," the Russian president told the reporters. He advised them to ask Zaluzhny himself about this, but warned that "one would need to switch to a foreign language to do so."

"I think he’s abroad," Putin clarified, but added that he "might be wrong" about it.

Speculation about Zaluzhny’s whereabouts emerged after he missed a high-profile NATO meeting on May 10. According to the chairman of the US bloc’s military committee, Rob Bauer, Kiev told Brussels that the Ukrainian commander-in-chief could not attend in person or via video-link due to the "complex operational situation" in the conflict with Russia.

Last month, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported, citing a security source, that Zaluzhny had been gravely wounded in a Russian missile strike near the city of Kherson in early May. Doctors expect the 49-year-old to survive, but he will no longer be able to conduct his duties as commander, the source claimed.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has denied the report as disinformation, saying that Zaluzhny remained at his workplace. However, since then, only one video of the commander-in-chief has appeared online, which couldn’t be independently verified. Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky also published a photo featuring Zaluzhny, which according to him, had been taken at an extraordinary meeting of Ukraine’s Security Council on June 6.

Last week, the BBC said that it had asked "Gen. Zaluzhny for an interview. He declined our request."

The Ukrainian commander, whom the Western media have branded the ‘Iron General,’ had been among the most noticeable figures on the Ukrainian side throughout the conflict between Moscow and Kiev. He has given lengthy interviews to outlets such as The Economist and Time, which listed him among the 100 most influential people in the world in 2022.

There is also uncertainty about the fate of Kirill Budanov, the head of the Ukrainian military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR), who promised in an interview to "keep killing Russians anywhere on the face of the earth." He also claimed responsibility for supposedly assassinating "many" Russian public figures, but declined to provide any names.

Budanov hasn’t made any public appearances since late May, when, according to Putin, the headquarters of the GUR in Kiev were struck by Russian missiles.

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