Valerii Zaluzhnyi: Ukraine to appoint ex-army chief as UK ambassador

  • By James Waterhouse, Ukraine Correspondent and Johanna Chisholm
  • BBC News in Kiev and London

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Valerii Zaluzhnyi was dismissed last month as commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces.

The former head of the Ukrainian armed forces is appointed the country’s ambassador to Britain.

The Ukrainian general has led the war effort since 2022.

He was seen as a potential political rival to Zelensky and was popular among soldiers.

Ukraine has not had an ambassador to Britain since Zelensky fired former envoy Vadym Prystaiko in July 2023 after he publicly criticized the president.

The Foreign Ministry said a request has been sent to Britain to finalize General Zaluzhnyi’s move.

Announcing his appointment, Zelensky claimed that General Zaluzhnyi had told him that diplomacy is “the direction he would like to take.”

Replacing him in the post last month was battle-hardened General Oleksandr Syrskyi, whom Mr Zelensky described at the time of his appointment as having both offensive and defensive experience.

The decision to oust General Zaluzhnyi came at a time when the career soldier had higher approval ratings than Mr Zelensky himself, prompting speculation that a rift had opened between the two men.

It is unclear whether this new appointment is a reward for Mr Zaluzhnyi’s previous term in office or a political game. It is worth remembering that the former army chief has no diplomatic experience.

Lack of experience, however, didn’t exactly deter Zelensky when he was elected president in 2019, after spending the lion’s share of his career as a comedian.

In Ukraine, politics can be less about the parties and their manifestos and more about the leader and their charisma.

Some formal approvals still need to be granted, but the BBC understands that General Zaluzhnyi has accepted his new role as British ambassador. This means he will likely be based in the capital of a warm ally of Ukraine, while representing his leader’s agenda.

It also crucially means he will not divert the president’s support at home as his boss tries to strike a balance between mobilizing thousands of men while protecting Ukraine’s economy. That requires a united front.

The Ukrainian leader had said at the time of General Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal that leadership within the military ranks needed to be “renewed”, but added that the beloved general could “remain in the team”.

Meanwhile, Britain announced Thursday it will supply Ukraine with more than 10,000 drones in a deal worth £125 million ($160 million).

That’s on top of the £200 million pledged for drones earlier this year as part of a wider military aid package.

Defense Secretary Grant Shapps, who made the announcement during a visit to Kiev, also urged Britain’s allies to increase their own weapons stockpiles.

Ukraine has suffered several setbacks over the past two years in its bid to oust Russia from its territory.

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