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18 Dec, 2023 20:21

Zelensky weakened conscription drive – Ukraine's top general

Valery Zaluzhny has reportedly admitted that the president’s firing of recruiting chiefs undermined mobilization efforts
Zelensky weakened conscription drive – Ukraine's top general

Ukraine’s highest-ranking general has reportedly claimed that President Vladimir Zelensky’s decision earlier this year to fire the chiefs of all military recruiting offices hindered efforts to bring in the fresh troops needed to battle Russian forces at the frontlines.

Speaking to reporters on Monday at an event in Kiev, Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny was asked about the effects of his recruiting directors being sacked. “These were professionals,” Interfax quoted him as saying. “They knew how to do this, and they are gone.”

At issue was Zelensky’s decision in August to fire all 33 heads of Ukraine’s regional military recruiting centers because they allegedly took bribes to sign off on bogus medical exemptions for men desperate to avoid being conscripted. The president said he would replace the recruiting bosses with soldiers who had been injured in combat, arguing that they would understand why “cynicism and bribery in time of war are high treason.”

Zelensky and Zaluzhny have clashed over the potential overstepping of their roles into each other’s purview. The president’s office dismissed one of Zaluzhny’s deputies last month, and a Zelensky aide criticized the top general for telling a Western media outlet that Kiev’s conflict with Russia had reached a “stalemate.”

Zelensky himself told a British tabloid that military leaders need to stay out of politics: “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].”

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) confirmed on Sunday that it was investigating the planting of a covert listening device in one of Zaluzhny’s workspaces. The general confirmed that he was not the only senior military leader who had apparently been targeted by unknown spies.

The commander-in-chief is seen as a potential political rival of Zelensky, given his popularity among Ukrainian voters. A new poll by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), released on Monday, found that while public trust in Zelensky had dropped to 62% from 84% a year ago, Zaluzhny was trusted by 88% of respondents.

Ukraine’s need for fresh troops amid heavy casualties on the frontlines is so acute that recruiters have reportedly taken to “snatching” men off the streets and forcing them to fight. “Recruiters have confiscated passports, taken people from their jobs and, in at least one case, tried to send a mentally disabled person to military training,” the New York Times reported on Friday, citing interviews with Ukrainian lawyers, activists and draftees.