Portraits of Gen. Valery Zaluzhny hang in coffee shops and bars inside Ukraine, but his strained relationship with President Volodymyr Zelensky may cost him his post.
He deftly defended his country in Europe’s largest ground war in decades, stalling Russia’s invasion and then pushing it back with everything at hand: natural barriers like rivers, aging weapons and lethal drones, trickery and elements of surprise.
But the fate of Ukraine’s top commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, now appears to be hanging by a thread — not over his standing in the army, where he is well regarded, but over tensions with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.
The president’s frustrations have mounted since it became clear in the fall that Ukraine’s southern counteroffensive, a push that started with high hopes for Ukraine and its backers, had failed. The fighting has since bogged down in bloody, static trench warfare.
Should Mr. Zelensky dismiss the general, it could create a host of problems for him both in the war and at home. Although Mr. Zelensky embodies his country’s resistance to Russian aggression to many of his supporters abroad, the general is widely hailed as a hero in Ukraine.
His portrait hangs in coffee shops and bars. Online, he is the subject of countless patriotic memes. Public opinion polls over the fall showed his popularity exceeded Mr. Zelensky’s — a reason, analysts and opposition politicians have said, for the men’s increasingly strained relationship, though the general has never voiced political ambitions.
Military analysts have credited the general with preparing the army in the weeks and days before the invasion, even as Mr. Zelensky’s government publicly downplayed the odds of a Russian attack. General Zaluzhny oversaw not only the defense of the capital, Kyiv, but also the campaigns that thwarted the initial invasion and retook hundreds of square miles.