As we enter winter, the political situation for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is getting worse.

Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, a former boxing champion and a reputation comparable to Zelensky's, has been interviewed by German and Swiss media since December, criticizing Zelensky for having "authoritarian" tendencies, "We will be no different from Russia in the future"; Against the backdrop of the failed counteroffensive in the summer, he reiterated Zelensky's last-minute denial of a Russian invasion before Russia's advance, and people wondered why we weren't better prepared for this war.

At present, both in the United States and in Europe, it is difficult to continue to aid Ukraine in the war, with American Republicans on one side and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and other right-wing obstacles in the European Union. The summer offensive launched in early June did not produce any results in the end, but the Russian army gradually caught up with Ukraine's original advantageous projects such as the application of drones. At a time when manpower on the front line is seriously depleted, it has become increasingly difficult for Ukraine to recruit soldiers.

The Economist recently quoted senior Ukrainian government officials as saying that the counteroffensive was not as expected, and the open conflict of the leadership was expected: "Politicians say that generals are stupid people trained by the Soviet Union, and generals say that politicians are stupid people who meddle indiscriminately, and there are always many fathers in victory, but no one wants to be the parents of a stalemate."

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, who visited the front lines in March 2022. (Wikimedia Commons)

Since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war in February 2022, Ukraine's domestic political struggle has largely entered a truce. Occasionally, there are civil society groups criticizing Zelensky's ineffective anti-corruption efforts, or opposition parliamentarians criticizing Zelensky's authorities for not letting them go abroad, and last summer there was also news that Zelensky was worried about the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army, Valery Zaluzhny, who was "highly meritorious", but the entire political and public opinion circles were mostly united under Zelensky's command.

But as the war stalled, the political struggle in Kyiv gradually came to the fore.

The dispute between Ze and Zha

The latest wave of political battles first came from Zaluzhny's "stalemate theory" released in The Economist on November 11, in which he claimed that the Russian and Ukrainian armies have fallen into a war of attrition and positional warfare for reasons of science and technology, and both sides can see what the other side is doing on the battlefield, and it is impossible to gather troops to advance, so unless there is a breakthrough in technology or the use of technology like gunpowder invented by the Chinese, the stalemate is difficult to change, and the advantage of a long-term war of attrition is on the Russian side.

The presidential administration immediately jumped out to deny Zaluzhny's "impasse theory", and even said that his claims helped Russia and caused panic among Ukraine's allies. Zelensky himself then publicly rejected the "deadlock theory" in front of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and quickly fired the commander of the special operations forces Viktor Khorenko, the commander of the medical forces Tatiana Ostashchenko and others - both of whom are regarded as Zaluzhny's cronies, the former even claimed that he saw his fire in the media, and said that Zaluzhny himself did not know about it in advance.

The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valery Zaluzhny attends the country's Independence Day celebrations in Kyiv on August 2023, 8. Zaluzhny rarely speaks in public, and as a result, every one of his statements receives the attention of the general public. (Getty)

Coincidentally, at the time when Zaluzhny published the "impasse theory", the American "Time" magazine happened to publish a report on Zelensky, portraying Zelensky as a figure who blindly believes that Ukraine will eventually win the war, and even quoted his aides as saying that Zelensky was "deceiving himself".

Subsequently, rumors that "so-and-so" in the army was about to be fired, and Zaluzhny, who did not further publicly express his position on this, was also believed to be likely to be replaced by Zelensky. Some Ukrainian media quoted military sources as saying that it is not impossible that this is not impossible that Zaluzhny's team itself leaked information in order to prevent his military cronies from being fired in advance.

In order to dispel doubts, Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, who only took office in September this year, stated that Zelensky and Zaluzhny had no conflict, and that the rumors were purely fictional, and that Khorenko had another important role in the military. Zelenskyy also accused Russia of creating another Maidan uprising, stirring up public opinion about political infighting in Ukraine in hopes of overthrowing its government. The Kyiv Post quoted sources as saying that Zelensky just hoped that Zaluzhny would inform him in advance before the "deadlock theory" came out, and Zaluzhny later apologized to Zelensky.

However, news of Zelensky's feud with Zaluzhny is still heard. First of all, Zelensky himself seems to continue to secretly criticize Zaluzhny. For example, in an interview published by the British newspaper The Sun on November 11, Zelenskyy pointed out that different political forces are pushing the military into politics and warned that "if a soldier decides to engage in politics, which is his right, then he should enter politics and stop interfering in war."

On 11 November, MPs from its Servant of the People party called for the dismissal of the army's commander-in-chief, Zaluzhny, further exacerbating the impression of discord between the presidential administration and the military leadership.

On February 2015, 2, then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden attended the Munich Security Conference and met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. (Getty)

Uncontrollable political strife

Second, former President Petro Poroshenko, who was defeated by Zelensky in the 2019 election and later accused of treason, seems to be deliberately siding with Zaluzhny to stir up contradictions with Zelensky. One of Poroshenko's MEP MPs took the lead in spreading rumors in early November that Zaluzhny had been dismissed. Poroshenko's media also announced the visit of a major general-level military man, saying that he hoped to see Zaluzhny run for president, and the host also expressed support for the "military president". Later, the major general clarified that his remarks did not mean that Zaluzhny would run for president.

The Kyiv Post said that Zaluzhny himself has no interest in politics, but his others are planning a path to politics for him.

At the same time, the main Ukrainian media also constantly reported on Zelensky's feud with Zaluzhny. For example, the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper reported on December 12 that the two men had a three-point clashes. First, Zelensky has built a channel of direct communication with the army and the air force bypassing Zaluzhny, and there are two kinds of armies, one is the "good" military under the army commander Oleksandr Syrskyi and others, and the other is the "bad" military under Zaluzhny.

On November 2023, 11, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made a surprise visit to Kyiv to underscore the U.S. support to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. (Reuters)

Second, Zelensky's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, often reminded Zelensky about the potential political threat from Zaluzhny.

Third, Zelensky raised the banner of anti-corruption and fired the national and regional recruitment directors earlier, which seemed to be very decisive, but Zaluzhny said in an internal meeting that the number of conscriptions in various places has dropped across the board since then, which seems to be secretly criticizing Zelensky's political arbitrariness.

Some reports also pointed out that the criminal investigation by the Zelensky authorities into the suspected secret communication between the defenders of Unan and the Russian army at the beginning of the war may not be impossible to burn Zaluzhny's head.

On December 12, after Zelensky traveled to many fronts in Ukraine, he declared that the war had entered a new phase and that he would speed up the construction of fortifications, which seemed to be an open "switch from offensive to defensive". But on such an important military turn, it was discovered that there was no trace of Zaluzhny by his side.

On November 11, Zelensky was briefed by Army Commander Oleksandr Syrskyi on the front line. (Reuters)

In addition to the Ukrainian media, foreign media have also been receiving news of Zelensky's feud with Zaluzhny. Spain's El País, for example, quoted news that Zelensky had asked military and political figures such as Zaluzhny and Mykolaiv Governor Vitaliy Kim (who is of Korean descent) to appear less publicly in the media. The Economist and other British media also received news that Ze and Za had a bad relationship and that there was discord over the handling of the counteroffensive.

"Stalemate" or "Peace Talks"?

The intervention of the mayor of Kiev, Klychko, took place against the backdrop of this political infighting. He not only openly criticized Zelensky's autocracy and poor preparation for war, but also explicitly sided with Zaluzhny, claiming that the latter's "stalemate theory" is only "the truth", "some people may not want to hear the truth, but we cannot lie to our people and partners indefinitely". (Note: Who is the liar?) It is worth noting that Klichko himself was the leader of the congressional coalition of former President Petro Poroshenko.

When asked if he would run for president, Klichko avoided answering, claiming that he remained loyal to Zelensky.

People walk on a snow-covered street in Kyiv, Ukraine, November 2023, 11. (Reuters)

However, with the rumors of domestic political infighting and the unfavorable situation on the battlefield, some internal polls show that Zelensky's net popularity (according to: support minus disapproval) has fallen to 32%, compared with Zaluzhny's net popularity at 70%.

The feud between Zelensky and Zaluzhny is, from the point of view of domestic politics, a tool of political struggle that can be used by different forces in Kiev. But judging from the trend of the Russian-Ukrainian war, this is a difference between the "stalemate theory" and the "final victory theory". With the stalemate in the war and the internal pressure on the European and American aid fronts, the stalemate theory may evolve into a realist "peace negotiator" in the future -- territorial integrity is of course the principle of international politics, but sometimes it is necessary to abandon the principle and bow to reality for the sake of national interests.

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