Ukraine’s former commander-in-chief appointed ambassador to UK

Zaluzhnyi, known as the ‘Iron General’, had seen his once sky-high popularity falter after a failed counteroffensive.

Valerii Zaluzhnyi (File: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP)

Ukraine has named Valerii Zaluzhnyi its new envoy to the United Kingdom a month after he was removed from his position as the country’s military commander-in-chief.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine sent a request to the British side for an agreement,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

Ukraine has not had an ambassador in the UK since President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dismissed former envoy Vadym Prystaiko in July 2023 after he publicly criticised the leader.

Zaluzhnyi had led the Ukrainian army since the start of the war against Russia, pushing back a vastly more powerful invading force in the first months of the conflict.

Dubbed the “Iron General” by Ukrainian media, Zaluzhnyi came to symbolise the country’s resistance and enjoyed sky-high approval ratings among the public.

But the failure of a much-vaunted counteroffensive last summer and public disagreement with Zelenskyy tarnished his reputation in the president’s office.

He was replaced in February by Oleksandr Syrskii, who commanded Ukraine’s lightning autumn 2022 counteroffensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region.

Ukraine’s military strategy ‘must change’

At the time of Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal, Zelenskyy took to X to thank the military leader for his two years of service and said that the time had come for changes in the military leadership.

Zaluzhnyi himself conceded that Ukraine’s military strategy “must change” after roughly two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion.

“The tasks of 2022 are different from those of 2024. Therefore, everyone must change and adapt to the new realities as well in order to win together,” he wrote.

“The war does not remain the same. War changes and demands change. New approaches and new strategies are needed,” Ukraine’s Defence Minister Rustem Umerov said at the time of his dismissal.

Ukraine army chief
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, shakes hand with Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, February 7, 2024 [Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP]

The UK remains a key ally

On Thursday, UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps visited Kyiv, Zelenskyy said on X.

“Our primary focus was on bolstering Ukraine’s air defence and long-range capabilities, as well as meeting other urgent needs for weapons and ammunition and developing joint weapon production,” he said.

Zaluzhnyi was not seen in the images of the meeting shared by the Ukrainian president.

After the meeting, the UK Ministry of Defence stated that it would supply Ukraine with more than 10,000 drones to aid its fight against Russia.

The ministry also said it was spending a further 125 million British pounds ($160m) on “cutting-edge drones”, bringing its overall drone package to Ukraine to 325 million pounds ($416m).

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies