Ukraine’s Latest Challenge: Festering Tension Among Top Leaders

As Ukraine fights against a fierce Russian offensive and its leaders wait to see whether the West will approve more than $100 million in much-needed assistance, the government in Kyiv is dealing with a festering distraction: tumult in its top ranks centered on the fate of the top military commander.

Speculation raged on Monday in political and military circles, the news media and online that President Volodymyr Zelensky had fired the commander, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhny, with rumors becoming so widespread that the president’s office was forced to issue a public denial.

“There was no dismissal,” the president’s spokesman, Serhiy Nikiforov, told the Ukrainian media.

“I cannot say anything else,” he said. When asked whether the president intended to dismiss the general, Mr. Nikiforov replied: “I repeat to you once again — there is no subject of conversation.”

The curt response only fueled further speculation that the president’s office had planned to fire General Zaluzhny but backed down after a furious backlash, and on Tuesday the capital was still consumed with whether the general would be staying or going.

The general’s job has been in doubt since it became clear in the autumn that Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the country’s south had failed.

Ukraine’s former president and a leading opposition figure, Petro O. Poroshenko, was one of many prominent politicians who quickly weighed in on the rumors.

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